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How to get the data you need

There are many ways to gather data, from downloading spreadsheets to surveys to manually entering information into a spreadsheet to scraping websites. But no matter how you get your data, make sure you also gather information to help you make sense of them.

The first step in any data journalism project is acquiring the data in the first place. This can be done through myriad means, including requesting data through freedom of information requests, downloading spreadsheets from websites, scraping data off web pages, or assembling data through reporting or surveys.

Like any raw material used in reporting — interviews, multimedia clips, research material — data are imperfect and have limitations. So as part of your data gathering, it’s important to also gather or assemble data dictionaries that help describe the data and outline their limitations. 

This resource also includes inspirational “anecdotes and war stories” about what reporters go through to get important data.