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SOSC 1210 - First-Year Seminar for Quantitative Social Analysis: Introduction

This guide will help QSA first year student explore and use social science data sources

Goals of this Library Guide

The  short-term goal of this guide is to supplement the face-to-face Library sessions:

  • Will be able to search and find useful social science data, relevant to your research interests in order to be able to:

  • Explore  and Use a data source that interests  area of interest
  • Write about it for your seminar

The long-term goal of this guide is to help you become a reflective and critical user of quantitative social science data.

Data is never neutral

Who Collects Data & Why


  • Purpose:  administrative functions  & social control  puproses (taxation or licensing)
  • Different bureau's or departments keep different data
    • Fo example. HK transport dept keeps stats on car registrations)


Non-govermental organizations (including religions and businesses)

  • Purpose: administrative functions, control, and advocacy

Individuals -

  • Own data  for admin (e.g. receipts kept for tax purposes)
  • Own data for health, sentiment or other personal reasons (blood pressure readsings, glucose readings  descriptions of dreams, etc.)
  • Other people's data for admin (e.g. parents keep vaccination records for kids)
  • Other people's data for sentiment  (e.g. list of birth dates of friends)
  • Other people's data - for research (e.g. an academic who collects data on opinions)

Data collected for one purpose may get re-used for other purposes


When is Data Collected

Organizations and Governments collect data on a variety of schedules

  • Continually (e.g. social media, business apps for "surge pricing", etc.)
  • Weekly (e.g. "reportable" illnesses)
  • Monthly   (employment figures, inflation)
  • Quarterly
  • Annual - Yearly
  • Every 10 years

What is Collected?

Information on individuals & then often aggregated

  • Names 
  • Gender
  • Births
  • Marriage
  • Deaths
  • Illness
  • Property owned (houses, cars, etc.)
  • Movements
  • Income
  • Physical Information (height, weight, DNA etc.)
  • Cultural or ethnic information (education attained, languages spoken, religions observed)
  • Beliefs, opinions

Organizational information

  • Size (number of members, employees, etc)
  • Type of business or industry

Economic Information of a particular location or regime (often aggregated from personal information)

  • Population
  • Wages
  • Unemployment
  • Inflation
  • Productivity

How - Format & Cost

Free or Fee?

  • Some data is made available to the public for free
  • Other data is bought and sold.  It's a big market.


  • Some data is originally in physical format (paper, clay, etc.) and needs to be transcribed  (e.g.
  • Some data is available in table format as documents or pdf
  • Some is available in common easily manipulated formats like .csv or excel, others in tab  deliminated txt



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