Data Tips

Initial Publication Date: June 24, 2010
Most economists are well-aware of data sources like those linked on the Resources for Economists web page. But while finding data may be easy, experience suggests a few tips that might be useful when incorporating sources into Quantitative Writing Assignments in Economics.
  • Decide explicitly how much scaffolding you will supply to the data collecting process. What level assignment is this? First year vs. senior? Early in the term or later? Will you provide the data, ask students to collect the data from a source you specify, ask students to find data to meet your parameters, or ask students to construct the data (e.g. survey)?
  • Consult with your reference librarians. They have a wealth of experience working with students who are looking for data and may be able to anticipate confusion in your assignment. You may also want to let them know how much help you want them to give your students and how much you want the students to wrestle through the data search process.
  • Consider scaffolding the assignment, separating data collection from the writing. Sometimes students misunderstand what data mean. (For instance, "government consumption" may seem to them to be the same as "government expenditure.") When you identify such confusion only after the student turns in the final paper, grading becomes very difficult. The probability of these problems can be reduced by scaffolding the assignment: Ask students to turn in a citation to (or photocopy of) and one-paragraph description of the data they intend to use.
  • Always require complete citation information for data sources, so that you can find the exact data the student used. (e.g. Not 'economagic', but Title, title, url.) Provide citation examples in the assignment.