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Penrose Library

Sociology 207: ICPSR

Using data ethically

When you plan to collect data from human (or some animal) subjects for a study or an experiment, you must follow the guidelines provided by your Institutional Review Board (IRB). Whitman's basic guidelines can be found here. These are meant to protect the welfare, rights, and privacy of the subjects.

When you use secondary data, you must comply with the terms of use of the secondary data providers. This includes not attempting to find personally identifiable information from the dataset and reporting any discoveries of personally identifiable information. You are not permitted to redistribute the data, and you are expected to cite it properly in your presentation or publication (most data archives will give very specific directions on how to cite their data). ICPSR outlines its terms of use when you download a dataset.

ICPSR resources

The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research is a social science data archive. ICPSR data are mostly quantitative, and come from a broad range of social and behavioral science research studies. Thematic collections include areas such as education, aging, criminal justice, and substance abuse.

You can search for ICPSR data by browsing various categories or by entering specific search terms; the search tips on the right-hand side of the find data search box can be helpful.

You can search for specific variables from a large percentage of the studies held in the ICPSR archive. 

You can search for publications based on data held in the ICPSR archive.

Whitman is an ICPSR member institution, so you can download ICPSR data. In order to do so you will need to set up an account from the Whitman campus (in a computer center or via Whitman secure wireless).

For more information, how-to videos, and webinars, see the ICPSR YouTube page.

Search strategies for ICPSR

It is always helpful to keep track of how you do a search and what results you get -- that way you can expand or focus your search strategy later more easily.

  • What general topic are you interested in?
  • What question(s) are you trying to answer?
  • Decide on an (initial) search strategy: search by dataset, or search by variable?
  • Keep track of what search terms you use and what results you get with them!

When you find a dataset that is helpful for your research, be sure to note its title, its URL, and its citation information.

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