The Numbers Game: The Top 10 Sources for Statistics

Article excerpt

Just ten sources will answer a large proportion of statistical questions. Most are available free or at low cost on the Web.

Ugh, there's that word: statistics. Makes you shudder, doesn't it? The very thought causes eyes to glaze over, terror to strike the heart, and an "Oh, no" feeling to settle over your entire body.

There's good reason for hyperventilation. Statistics are among the hardest kinds of information to find. The expectations of our clients and patrons compound the problem; why should anything so "simple" and "readily available" take more than three minutes to locate? But we know that numbers-seekers face the following problems:

In order for statistics to exist, someone has to gather them. This implies a reason to do so, as well as manpower. No reason or resources, no statistics.

Statistics are often buried within articles, reports, books, and transcripts, with no indexing or guide that points to them. Even if you find figures on your subject, much of the time they're not "cut" the way you want to see them (what you want counted isn't counted). And there are so many sources from which to choose that only researchers who deal with statistics on a regular basis can know who generates them and where to look.

However, there's hope. I've found that just ten sources will answer a large proportion of statistical questions. (See the Top Ten sidebar.) Most are available free or at low cost on the Web.

STATISTICS SEARCH TIPS

But first, here are five important statistical search tips. Later, I'll profile each Top Ten source and explain how the tips apply to it.

Search Tip 1: Favor sources consisting primarily of statistics, like almanacs, statistical compendia, and numeric databases. Whenever you're looking for a particular type of informationnumbers, images, contact informationyou'll have an easier time if you don't have to sort out the type in question from other material. Most of the sources in the Top Ten consist primarily of statistics.

Search Tip 2: At Web sites, look for links to areas named Statistics; Publications, Reports, or Bulletins; Library or Archive(s); Data or Databases; and Press Releases.

Not all Webmasters are as savvy about how people seek information as ONLINE readers are. Because there's no standardization at Web sites, statistics may be well hidden. I've found the preceding terms and types of material to be the most productive. Search Tip 3: In full text, look for statistics-indicating word patterns, such as:

"According to a study/survey/report..."

"A study released by XYZ says/has found/finds that..."

"71 percent of Americans polled by Gallup...

Any time you search full text, you'll benefit from knowing the structure of the language and the way information is reported. Statistical information follows common and often predictable patterns.

Search Tip 4: Look for data placed outside the text as figures, tables, charts, graphs, infoboxes, and captions. Often this material is not searchable, but on some systems it is. For example:

On DIALOG, you can use the special feature field (s F=), which may contain a table, chart, or graph.

On LEXIS-NEXIS, the TABLEINFO segment can be used with market research reports.

On ProQuest Direct, you can search captions.

At searchable Web sites, you can use keywords like c ha r t or g ra ph . Search Tip 5: Use numbers-indicatin index terms. such as Statistics, Market share, Numeric, Demographics, Industry overview, and Forecasts.

Each database employs different terminology, so be sure to check the documentation for the one you're using.

THE TOP TEN

As you might expect, the top ten statistical sources are heavy on government publishers. That's because the U.S. government collects a wide range of statistics to support public policy decision-making, planning, and resource allocation. …