Skip to Main Content

Political Science & GIS: Data Sources

Key Things to Remember When Finding & Using Data

Allow enough time to find your data.

It might take several hours or even a few days to find the data you need.

The data you need may be within a larger dataset that covers many topics.

For example, data on glaciers may be in a land cover dataset.

Check for use restrictions.

Always look at the license or use restrictions for the data. Some will be free to use for educational or research purposes, but not for commercial uses. Always check citation requirements, too.

​Datasets might not be GIS-ready.

The information you are seeking may be in tables or reports. You may need to put the data into a format that can be read by GIS software (such as by adding columns for latitude and longitude coordinates).

Always download the data's documentation.

 The documentation or metadata will have essential information you will need to make sense of the data.

Stay organized.

Always make note of where you downloaded the data sets from, as you go (it is easy to lose track!), and keep your downloaded data organized.


Evaluating Data Sources

When choosing data to use for your mapping projects, it is important to keep the following criteria in mind:

  • Does it have metadata, such as information about how, when and by whom the data was collected?
  • Are the projections/coordinate systems compatible?
  • Does it have a location aspect (latitude and longitude; state names; country names), so that I can use it in my GIS?
  • Is it current, or from the right time frame?
  • Is the data from an authoritative source?