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Summer RA Workshop - 2024

Empirical Research: Introduction

Scholars who do empirical research use observable, measurable, verifiable facts or information to support their assertions. Part of your job working with an Emory Law faculty member may involve working with data.

Depending on your project, you may need to find qualitative (text-based) or quantitative (numerical) data. You may help analyze data, or you may be involved in managing or organizing data.

Some faculty members will already have collected data that they plan to work with; other faculty members
may ask you to track down data relevant to their project.


Some Starting Points for Finding Data

You may be tasked with tracking down data or information.

The collections listed below include court, economic, demographic, and other data, and they provide a snapshot of some of the many types of data and kinds of resources for finding data that are available to you. Use your Emory credentials to login and access these resources.

Many resources are available to you through Emory Libraries, including:




Data and Statistical Resources Beyond Emory

You may also need to use online resources outside of Emory libraries:

  • IRS tax statistics for business tax statistics, charities, individuals, Statistics of Income.
  • US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for patent searches and trademark searches.
  • World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO): Patent searches for 50+ countries using PATENTSCOPE.
  • Bureau of Justice Statistics: Multiple data collections on many topics, including information on prisoners, crime, firearms, and labor statistics, price indexes, earnings and benefits statistics, and employment numbers.
  • U.S. Census Bureau: includes a wide range of information, including historical data, maps, info on populations, businesses, communities, with datasets, tables, fact sheets, reference maps, surveys and estimates.
  • Environmental Protection Agency: data on air, water, climate change, and more.
  • Health & Human Services (HHS): includes data on Medicare & Medicaid, social services, community health, etc.
  • Caselaw Access Project: Harvard’s ongoing project to digitize all federal and state court cases.
  • National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL): Bill Tracking Databases with information for the 50 states.
  • UN Data: covers a wide range of topics, such as education, health, migration, trade, crime, and more; includes country profiles and UN Statistical tables.
  • ICPSR: The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research is a data archive focused on social and behavioral sciences, with specialized collections on criminal justice, education, terrorism, and more.
  • Administrative Office of the Courts: Analysis & Reports: Federal Court Management Statistics, including caseloads and filings; Judicial Business of the US Courts, with tables of filings, appeals, and judicial vacancies; Judicial Facts and Figures; Federal Judicial Caseload Statistics; and Statistical Tables for the Federal Judiciary. 
  • National Center for State CourtsCourt Statistics Project. Caseload data from the courts of the 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico. Civil court data includes caseloads, clearance rates, tort caseloads, and medical malpractice caseloads.


Working with Data

If your faculty member is working with data, it may be useful for them to develop a data management plan (DMP). This kind of plan is a written document that:

  • describes the data you will acquire or generate during the course of the research project
  • describes how you will manage, describe, analyze, and store those data
  • sets out what mechanisms you will use at the conclusion of your project to both share and preserve your data

DMPs are required by some funders, including the NIH and NSF, and they help ensure that whoever is conducting research using data thinks about the different stages of data use, from finding data, to describing data, to making data available to other researchers and scholars.

Because these plans require researchers to work through stages and identify components of a research project, they help to clarify what steps need to be taken at each stage of a project. Such plans are also useful for multi-person projects and projects that extend over a longer period of time. 

To view examples of data management plans and to compare data management plan requirements associated with many major funders, you can review the information available at

Whenever possible, try to ensure that the data you and your faculty member work with align with "FAIR" (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) principles. Guidance on how to follow FAIR principles with respect to data (and metadata) are available at



Additional Issues to Consider When Working with Data

In addition to finding data and creating a data management plan when possible, there are a number of other issues to keep in mind whenever data is a part of a research project:

  • It is important to determine if a dataset you plan to use is in the public domain or not. The fact that a dataset can be accessed online does not necessarily mean you have permission to make use of it. Determine if there are any restrictions or conditions that limit how or if you are allowed to use the data.
  • It is also worthwhile to be aware of other potential sorts of restrictions on data use. It is possible that a researcher will need to pay a fee in order to use data, that they will need to request permission to use data, that licensing terms limit how the data can be used.
    • When it comes to conducting text data mining (tdm), for example, it is important to determine if licensing agreements with third parties prohibit or restrict text data mining.
  • It can also be important to consider ethical implications of working with particular datasets, including those involving human subjects, and to determine how the data were obtained.
  • Keep records of where you found data and retain any relevant files associated with the data, including README files.
  • Even if you or your faculty member do not write a complete, formalized data management plan, it is still beneficial for you to make a plan for how you will share and store data.

Data Resources and Services Available to the Emory Community

Data support at Emory is offered to students and to faculty, both for research projects and for teaching. The Research Services librarians at the Law School and members of Emory's Data Services team can help users in a number of ways, including:

  • data management planning
  • collaboration tools
  • capturing data
  • data storage
  • data analysis
  • how to find data
  • grant support
  • compliance and legal issues
  • data sharing

In addition, a number of Emory units offer in-person consultations and workshops on working with data. Past workshop topics have focused on statistical analysis, text analysis, GIS and mapping, documenting data, and related topics. Units that offer data-related services include:

Emory University's Data Librarian, Robert O'Reilly, has compiled a number of different guides that focus specifically on finding and using data. Some of these guides provide general information while others are focused on particular subject areas or disciplines. Dr. O'Reilly's guide on Data Resources and Support provides a useful starting point if you plan to work with data, as it describes data services offered to the Emory community and starting points for finding different kinds of data.


Screenshots of the Emory Research Data website and the LibGuide on Data Resources and Support are provided below:

Session Recording - 2024 Workshop

Empirical Data Presentation PPT Slides

Even Baby Yoda Loves a Treatise

Even Baby Yoda relies on secondary sources...

Questions for the MacMillan Law Library?

Have a question for the Law Library?  Reach out to us via one of our question forms:

Faculty Research or Staff Question?
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Student Research Question?
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MacMillan Library Hybrid Research Services:

          Monday - Friday: 9am - 5pm
          Saturday - Sunday: Closed 

MacMillan Library Building Hours (May 13 - August 16, 2024):

Monday - Friday: 9am - 6pm
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Reference Desk:
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Tuesday: 10am - 12pm; Virtual only: 1pm - 3pm
Wednesday: 10am - 12pm; Virtual only: 2pm - 4pm
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Emory Law Archives:
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Digital archives: More information available here
Limited remote services are available on a case-by-case basis. 
Questions?  Email Anna Sturgill, Law Librarian for Archives and Assessment Services