Regardless of where you are getting your information, you need to be aware of a few simple attributes about whatever information you are using.
When evaluating information, here are five helpful considerations:
Currency: timeliness of the information.
Relevance: importance of the information for your need.
Authority: source of the information.
Accuracy: reliability, truthfulness, correctness.
Purpose: reason that the information exists.
1. Identify appropriate literature
Using EconLit, you should be able to find a number of scholarly articles on any reasonable economic topic. More sources are typically better than fewer. Once you hone your topic, things that you thought at the outset were relevant, become less so as you focus your area of inquiry. The more "local" you get about any economic topic (demand for Thai/Malaysian fusion restaurants in Millersville) the more difficult it typically becomes to find readily avaialble data.
2. Identify primary sources of economic data.
Primary economic data is typically "raw" and hasn't been subjected to much analysis or interpretation as it is presented (not to be confused with the methodology that was used to obtain the "raw" data itself). These are typically manifest as databases of numbers or figures that measure some specific economic activity (employment rate) or demand for something (existing home sales).
3. Identify secondary sources of economic data.
Secondary sources of economic data are typically a sets of primary data that have been investigated for some type of correlation or causation between a number of variables. These types of sources are typically manifest as scholarly articles, white papers, pre-prints, book chapters, or books.
You should be aware that some organizations (regional Federal Reserve Banks are a good example) are tasked with both collecting primary economic data AND providing some analysis of that information and presenting it to an audience or clientele in an readily understandable form. In many cases you should be able to access the "raw" data independent of the analysis that has been reported.
4. Evaluate economic data / information
Evaluate the information you have located for applicability to your research question. Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose.
5. Research is a Process
Understand that conducting research is an iterative process and that solid research with primary and secondary resources can rarely be done with only one trip through the process outlined above. The more you know, the more you know about other resources and opportunities; and it's very unlikely that you know exactly what you're looking for the first time through the research process. You won't be doing this ad infinitium, but you should expect to undertake the steps above several times for each research question.
These are the resources where you will find articles, conference papers, pre-prints, book chapters, and books. Work that might be similar to what you are attempting that has already been published. You might find similar items helpful for variable(s) identification, design methodology or forumulating your research question(s). If an article of particular relevancy is located the works cited can be an excellent way to jumpstart your literature review.
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