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6 Tips for Sourcing Your Data

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Good data is nothing without good sourcing. Next time you’re scoping data for a project, follow these 5 tips to make sure your sources are solid.

  1. Use Recent Data. The world changes quickly. Oftentimes, data that was produced or collected 10 or even 5 years ago is obsolete. Always use the most recently published version of the data available. In all cases, be upfront about how old the data set is.
  2. Use Only Reliable Data. Verify that the source you choose is relevant, legitimate, and as non-biased as possible. Strong sources include data collected/produced by government agencies, such as the statistics compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau or the Department of Labor. Other top-tier data sources can include industry white papers or academic publications.

Remember that surveys conducted by polling agencies or think tanks, while usable, will often have a political agenda. Therefore, as with the case of aged data, use discretion.

  1. Use Only Primary Sources. If you come across an interesting piece of information on Wikipedia or in a magazine article, never take the publication’s word for it. Go to the primary data source. Without reviewing the primary document yourself, you’ll never know if the methods were flawed, the sample size too small, or the questionnaire biased.
  2. Limit Your Sources. Finding multiple data sets from multiple sources on one subject is exciting, but you can’t create a consistent narrative with 15 different sources. Try to find one or two cohesive sets to work with. 
  3. Use Complementary Sources. Even if you only use two data sources, they can still create a lot of variance. Using two data sets that clash, such as data collected by think tanks on the opposite sides of the political spectrum, is just an easy way to make crafting a narrative difficult. Make sure that the sources you use complement each other and don’t introduce inconsistent or biased information. Complementary sources are the same type of data, collected in the same time frame, using similar questionnaire designs.

Want more? Check out How to Find Accurate and Compelling Data.