Using Article Citations to Find Data for Social Science

Whether we like it or not, using quantitative measures in social science research has become increasingly important for getting your work published and recognized. If you’ve never used data before and don’t even know where to start this can seem a little daunting. The good news is: You most likely won’t have to collect your own data. There is so much data already out there but the hard part can be finding it. In this post I will explain one strategy for finding social science data: using article citations.

Looney Toons' Wiley Coyote searching a landscape with binoculars

You don’t have to look too far to find the right data

Sometimes the right data is right under our noses; hidden in articles with similar research questions. There are two commonly used strategies for extracting data from article citations.

Strategy 1: Check the references

Go to the references section of a paper and look for data-set citations, or citations of statistics summary reports. Often they will list the agency name, sometimes the repository name from which the data was pulled, and sometimes include a URL or DOI that you can follow to the source. Statistics summary reports will cite data sources, and often those can be retrieved from an agency website or from a repository like ICPSR or the Illinois Data Bank.

In the example below, the data that the authors used to write their report is referenced in the charts and graphs. You can find a citation for this data in the references section of the paper. Follow the links in the citations below and see for yourself how to find data using the citations in a paper.


Lim, P. & Karmel, T. (2014). Measuring VET Participation by Socioeconomic Statis: An Examination of the Robustness of ABS SEIFA Measures Over Time. National Centre for Vocational Education Research. IBSN:978-1-922056-92-4

This article cites:

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Socio-economic Indexes for Area [Data file] ABS: Canberra.

Woman mouthing the words "Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy" and snapping her fingers while she says it.

Strategy 2: Find the Researcher’s Original Data

If the researcher collected original research data, check the article text (methods, data collection, or notes at the end). They may have shared this data in a public or institutional repository. If you cannot determine where data is located, contact the researcher directly to ask if it can be shared or reused.


Carson, D. C., & Esbensen, F.-A. (2019). Gangs in School: Exploring the Experiences of Gang-Involved Youth. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice17(1), 3–23.

You can read in the methods section of this paper that the researchers collected their own data in the process of doing their research. With enough information on the data, you can search for it online. The data in the above example is available in ICPSR. You can use the information you already have about the data to search for it in a repository or you can reach out to the authors of the paper directly and ask where the data can be located. Now it is very common for journals to require data to be published online before research on that data is published so keep your eyes peeled for research with valuable data because it might just be useful to you in your next project.

If you have any further questions about finding data for social science research, please reach out to the Scholarly Commons!

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