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Michigan State University

Business Analytics MS: Search Strategies

Intro Seminar / Spring 2015

Strategy #1

Search Strategy #1: Identify potential producers

Ask yourself: Who might collect or publish this type of information?

Then visit the organization’s website and see if you're right! Or, search for them as an author in the library catalog.

These are some of the main types of producers of statistical information:

Government Agencies

  • The government collects data to aid in policy decisions and is the largest producer of statistics overall. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Election Commission, Federal Highway Administration and many other agencies collect and publish data. To better understand the structure of government agencies read the U.S. Government Manual and browse FedStats. Government statistics are free and publicly available, but may require access through library resources.

Non-Government Organizations

  • Many independent non-commercial and nonprofit organizations collect and publish statistics that support their social platform. For example, the International Monetary Fund, United Nations, World Health Organization, and many others collect and publish statistics. For more information about NGOs, visit Duke Libraries NGO Research Guide. The library subscribes to many NGO resources, so be sure to check the library’s e-resources pages or catalog, as not all statistical publications will be freely available on the web.

Academic Institutions

  • Academic research projects funded by public and private foundations create a wealth of data. For example, the Michigan State of the State Survey and many other research projects publish statistics based on their data collection projects. Some statistical publications are available freely online, but others may require access through library resources.

Private Sector

  • Commercial firms collect and publish data and statistics as a paid service to clients or to sell broadly. Examples include marketing firms, pollsters, trade organizations, and business information. This information is almost always is fee-based and may not always be available for public release. The library does subscribe to some commercial data services, particularly through the business library.

Strategy #2

Search Strategy #2: Use a Finding Aid

Finding Aids are research guides, reference sources, and databases.

Not sure who might have produced the statistic you need?  Look in one of these sources:

Reference Sources

  • Statistical Abstract of the United States
    The first source for statistics on all aspects of population, economy and society in the United States. Annual publication 1878-present.  This source provides a tremendous amount of statistics for many different geographies and periods. The statistics are drawn from decennial census (every 10 years), economic census (every 5 years) and a whole host of other survey programs. It is this last fact that makes it necessary to take advantage of the wonderfully detailed footnotes/citations to the tables. These will often lead to fuller information.  Print versions back to 1879 can be found in the Main Library Census Collection (3 West).
  • Historical Statistics of the United States
    Similar to the broad coverage of the Statistical Abstract (mentioned above), yet with longer time series coverage.


  • Statista
    Statista is a statistics portal that provides data on over 80,000 topics from more than 10,000 different sources including agriculture, advertising, health, hospitality, consumer goods, and much more.
  • ProQuest Statistical Insight
    Indexes and abstracts statistical publications from the US government, state governments, international organizations, and professional associations. Please consult this guide for instructions on how to access materials that are not already digitized.
  • ProQuest Statistical DataSets
    A powerful interdisciplinary database that assembles statistical information from government and private sources in one single interface. It aggregates over 590 licensed and public domain datasets provided by over 50 sources and makes 14 billion data points accessible. Researchers are able to manipulate datasets, make comparisons, chart trends over time and spatially represent data without having to use additional software programs.

Research Guides

  • Data and Statistics Research Guides
    MSU Librarians have compiled guides that point you directly to the major sources and producers and data and statistics in different topical areas such as agriculture, criminal justice, health, public opinion, religion, etc.

Important!  For the most part, these and other similiar resources will provide or direct you to statistical tables and publications.  By looking at the source notes of a statistical table or noting the publisher of a report you can identify producers of data. 

Strategy #3

Search Strategy #3: Targeted Online Searches

Consider the range of resources available to you and make an intelligent choice on where to search.
Think about where to search and which keywords to use.  A targeted search can often yield fruitful results.

Business Resources

  • Consult the list of business databases that contain data and statistical information.

Internet Search Engines

  • I know, it's obvious!  When searching the Internet, be sure to identify your topic keywords carefully and try using synonyms. Add in terms like “data” or “statistics”. Use advanced search features such as the “site:” command which allows you to limit your search to a certain website or domain. For example, if you think that the government is a likely producer of the statistics you need end your search with the command “” to only search within government websites.

    Try our Google Custom Data Search

Library Catalog

  • Use the MSU Library Catalog to find books with statistical tables. 

    Statistical publications will always include the keyword "statistics" in the subject information about the book. For example:

    Education -- Statistics.

    Health insurance -- Michigan -- Statistics.

    Michigan -- Statistics.

    Knowing this, you can use a technique for limiting your search to statistical publications by doing a subject search for your topic.

Finding Aids

  • Research is an iterative process.  You've just looped back to an earlier search strategy

Strategy #4

Search Strategy #4: Turn to the published literature (Literature Review)

Look for statistics reported in journal, news, and magazine articles.  If they report a source, be sure to follow it up!

By searching periodical indexes, you can determine if anyone has conducted research into your area of inquiry.  You may turn up a journal article with statistical tables on your topic, or you may find out that you have chosen such a unique topic that little to no research exists in that area.  Maybe you can be flexible with your topic and find a similiar substitute.

The library has many different indexes that you can use to search for articles. Here are just a few recommendations:

Bibliography of Data Related Literature
      From the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR).

      ABI/INFORM provides current news and scholarly journal articles in all aspects of business. Includes the full-text of the Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times. Also includes market, industry, and country research.

Business Source Complete
      Contains content from scholarly business journals, including the full text of the Harvard Business Review. Also includes company profiles, investment research reports, industry reports, market research, country reports, SWOT analyses, and more.

Communication & Mass Media Complete
      Provides journal articles and abstracts in the areas of communications, mass media, and related fields.

LexisNexis Academic 
      Provides newspaper articles and company information worldwide.

Conference Board 
      Research reports include surveys and case studies of the world's most influential companies.

ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
      With more than 2 million entries, PQD&T is a central resource for information about doctoral dissertations and master's theses. Dissertations published from 1980 forward include 350- word abstracts written by the author. Master's theses published from 1988 forward include 150-word abstracts.

For more information on finding business articles, see our research guide here:

Strategy #5

Search Strategy #5: Ask for help

Knowing when to call in reinforcements is important.

Ask a Librarian

Keep in mind that one possible reason nothing is turning up is that the statistic or data you need was never collected!  Be flexible and consider alternative measures.

Subject Guide

Laura Leavitt Walesby's picture
Laura Leavitt Walesby
Law College Building
648 N. Shaw Lane, Room 50
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
Subjects:Business, Law
Michigan State University