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Soc 311: Research Methods --ICPSR

Library research session on using the ICPSR data library.


ICPSR (the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research) is an organization of universities and colleges which maintains a data archive for social scientists on the University of Michigan campus. Government agencies, organizations, and individual researchers – in short, anyone who collects social data for research – may deposit data in the archive. Because Reed College is a member of ICPSR, Reed community members may download data sets and accompanying documentation.

ICPSR data sets are raw data. A statistical program such as STATA or R (SPSS and SAS are other commonly-used programs) is needed to create tabulations from the data. Reed provides support for R and Stata. R is a free open source program, and is available pre-configured on the Reed network. Stata is available in a few computer labs, and can also be run on a personal computer using Reed's Virtual Computer Lab.

Getting an account

You can browse datasets without an account, but will need to be logged into one to download data.

Use this link to Create an Account. You will need to use your email address to be able to access data (outside of COVID times a different kind of validation is done to provide access).

Locating and Evaluating Data Sets

Use the Find Data page to locate data sets in the ICPSR data archive by words in title, principal investigator, study number or variable name.

If you are not sure of the specific data you are after or are not sure what keywords to use in a search, ICPSR has a few other entry points to datasets.

  • Browse by topic. Scroll through potential broad areas of interest to discover datasets. Topics include education, legal system, social institutions and behavior
  • Browse by Study. Scroll through a list of studies and surveys by their name
  • Browse by Theme.  Browse collections of data sets funded by external agencies, such as civic action, firearm safety and the water in Flint MI.
  • Search publications. Or work backwards - search publications to see what data set was used

Each data holdings entry contains information that can help you to evaluate the usefulness of the data set, such as a summary, the time period covered, the format, structure, and size of the data set. Examine the entry carefully when deciding which data set(s) to download.

Understanding a dataset page

At a Glance tab:

  • brief overview of the dataset,
  • a citation to add to your bibliography if you use the data
  • linked subject terms here, use these to find topically similar datasets.
  • information under methodology and scope about how and when the data was collected

Data & Documentation tab:

  • codebook preview
  • data download options

Variables tab:

  • search within the variable names and lables in dataset

Data-related publications tab:

  • bibliography of publications that have used this dataset