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GEO 235: Sustainable Climate Communities

Evaluating Data

As with any research project, you must evaluate the sources you use.


  • Make sure your data is dated.
  • Is it current enough for your needs?
  • Do you need a specific time period?

Authority: What organization or individual created the data?

  • Who is the author or affiliated organization?
  • Are they considered an expert in the field?


  • Why was the information published?
  • Is it to inform or persuade the reader?
  • Who is the intended audience?


  • Are there references given for the information?
  • Is it an appropriate source for your assignment?

Data Limitations

Here are some limitations you may encounter as you search for data...

  • Data may not exist for a given geographic area: For example, not every police department has crime statistics at the street level. Cases of influenza are generally reported at the county level. You may have to adjust the scope of your research accordingly or find different sources.
  • CurrencyData may not be available for the time span desired. The data may only be collected every 5 to 10 years. Even then it can take time to process the data. For example, U.S. Census data is released over a period of 2 to 3 years.
  • Mismatched geographies: Keep an eye out for geography range when comparing data sets. For example, business data may be available at the zip code level while the demographics are at the municipality or census block level. Similarly some statistical regions criss-cross governmental lines including legislative districts and zip codes.
  • Privacy and security issues: Data may not be publicly available due to privacy, security or licensing issues. For example, the most recent U.S. Census available with individual names is 1940.
  • Biased data: Consider the source. It is possible to "cherry-pick" data to support a biased argument so look for data from a reputable source.

Data Creators

Are you looking for data to answer a research question? First consider the kinds of data that could answer your question and who might create this data. Here are examples of data creators.

  1. Governments and their agencies
    • International: UN, World Bank
    • Federal: Census, USGS (geography-geology), Bureau of Labor Statistics, EPA (environmental), Department of Agriculture, NOAA (weather), Fish and Wildlife Service.
    • State and Local: PennDOT and BMV (transportation), Department of Health, Game Commission (wildlife), Gaming Commission (gambling), police agencies.
  2. Quasi-Governmental Agencies
    • Watershed protection agencies
    • Transit, turnpike and port authorities
  3. Non-profits/think tanks/interest groups
    • Medical advocacy associations, Pew Research, PETA (animal cruelty), Brookings and Cato institutes (political-based research groups)
  4. Universities/Colleges
    • Research centers and agricultural outreach services.
  5. Commercial entities
    • Yelp, Google, movie box office