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Use Current Research as a Guide

Before you begin new research, you should start with a thorough review of what others have already done.

Not only does this help you get up-to-date with current research in your area of interest, but it also typically leads you to examples of useful databases that are available, commonly used analysis methods, and ideas for ways to present your findings. To do a thorough search of the literature, you should:

  • Think about what subject terms you will use for your search
  • How extensive a search you would like to do (how far back, and how wide)
  • Decide how you will keep track of the references from your search
  • Decide whether you will consult with a professional searcher or do your search yourself

A good place to start your literature search is www.pubmed.gov. Another useful source is scholar.google.com. Keep in mind you should verify the reputability of papers you find on Google, and confirm they come from reliable and, ideally, peer-reviewed sources.

A man building a wheel.Avoid Reinventing the Wheel

Remember there are many sources of valuable data. Be sure to take inventory of what’s already available before you start designing a survey or sampling scheme to get your own data. The time you spend will be well worth it! Even if you don’t find exactly the data you need, you will probably find resources for guiding your work. Look for reputable websites (i.e., www.cdc.gov), and local, state, or federal organizations which may have data related to your project already available to you.

Useful Datasets/Databases Already Available

There are national data available that have been collected by government agencies and other organizations and are available for public use. There are also many data sources collected at a state or local level that may be available to you.

Remember that each data source is different in terms of the data elements collected, the time period over which they are collected, and how reliable or accurate the data are. Before using a data source, it is important to find out what definitions, restrictions, and conditions apply.  Existing databases can be used to:

  • Describe a problem and at risk population
  • Track trends in injury or illness over time
  • Compare regions
  • Identify injury or illness “hot spots.”

This information can be used to set intervention priorities and determine resource allocation.

Caution signExisting Datasets and Variables

An important part of using an existing dataset is knowing how the variables are defined. Reputable data sources should have standard definitions for each field of data. Make sure you have access to these definitions and understand them well before attempting to use the data.

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rev. 04-Aug-2022




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This website is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of the Emergency Medical Services for Children Data Center award totaling $3,200,000 with 0% financed with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov.

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