Statistics, databases and websites – guidance for SOAS students beginning dissertations

By Victoria Bird|March 19, 2013|Development Studies, Economics, Financial and Management Studies, Politics and International Relations|0 comments

Beginning research for your dissertation can make you feel a little lost, especially when you are searching for statistics or other data. Statistics and other factual databases are not just for Mathematicians, or Economists- they can provide powerful evidence for any Social Science discipline. This post will introduce some of the sources for non-specialists.

Start point- Library databases

A good start point is to consider what you actually need in terms of statistics and why you need them. It is important to be realistic about what you aim to achieve with the data you can locate. Remember: reporting standards vary hugely across the world.

Have a look at the Library’s data and statistics page. This lists lots of databases which you can use in your research. However, you might be unsure as to the most relevant ones- and other sites might also be worth a visit, depending on your topic.

One of the most useful sites on the list is the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) provides access to over 5,000 digital data collections which you can search using their data catalogue. The datasets include quantitative, qualitative, multimedia and non-digital material.

In addition to statistics, the ESDS data catalogue contains information on topics such as Anti-terrorism in the UK and an anthropological study of the Abelam of Papua New Guinea and the Nso of Cameroon, 1939-1963.

Photo: Data Centre Storage. Copyright: Waleed Alzuhair

Country data

How do you find statistical information about countries? Some of this will be available via the Library databases, such as IndiaStat and China Statistical Data Online, but not all. A previous post on this blog covered online statistics for countries in South Asia. Comprehensive listing of statistical departments, government institutes and research groups is provided by the University of Florida’s Department of Statistics. LSE also have a good guide to statistical data, some of which is in their printed collection. Nationmaster provides comparative data for countries, but on a very superficial level.

Countries often have very good statistical services, which provide much information- an example is the Japanese Statistics Bureau, which contains long term statistics for Japan, in addition to statistics on the affected area following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and Household consumption survey.

Why not also check out the latest Library database acquisition:

International Bodies

Again, large amounts of data from various international bodies can be found on ESDS and other Library databases, but you might find the following useful.

Organisations such as the UN collect large amounts of data, much of which is publicly available. UNdata provides a single access point to 60 million data points covering a wide range of themes including Agriculture, Crime, Education, Employment, Energy, Environment, Health, HIV/AIDS, Human Development, Industry, Information and Communication Technology, National Accounts, Population, Refugees, Tourism, Trade, as well as the Millennium Development Goals indicators. There are also features like Country Profiles, Advanced Search and Glossaries to help you in your research.

Other NGO organisations such as International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the World Trade Organisation all have data which they often make available for free via their websites. (N.B. Data from some of these organisations is also be available via ESDS).

One of the best sites for locating official statistical data is Offstats, produced by the University of Auckland. The SESRIC BASEIND (BAsic Social and Economic INDicators) Database is another source of such information, focusing on the 57 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation member countries.

Company financial statistics

Datastream and other databases are good places to find financial data. The library subscribes to some of these- find out what here. User guides are available. Some other sources can be accessed at City Business Library, which I discussed in an earlier post.

Other sources of financial data include:

  • Oriana, which contains company information for South East Asia
  • Bankscope, which contains information on the banking sector worldwide

Example bar chart from Bankscope, Copyright © 2012,  Bureau van Dijk.

Some information might not be obtainable via the Library databases- you might be referred on to City Business Library, or another library, which might have what you need.

Basic considerations

Guides on how to understand and utilise statistics, both general such as Statistics: A gentle introduction, and more specialist titles such as Statistics for linguistics with R can be found by searching the Library catalogue.

A final word of warning: as with all information, you need to pay close attention to the source of your statistics or other data to ensure that your information is:

  • up-to-date
  • reliable
  • relevant

All data and statistics should be properly cited, as with any other material you utilise in your assignments. If you can’t find a reliable attribution on a website that you are getting information from, then you should consider carefully if it is appropriate to use it- there is probably a more reliable, properly cited source somewhere. Subject librarians or lecturers should be able to assist if you are experiencing problems with this.

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