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Guide to Planning Data Research
When seeking out secondary data, there are a few essential questions to ponder before beginning.
What is my research question?
What is the purpose of my research?
Data comes in all shapes and forms, from relatively easy to work with to practically impossible. There is no reason to start with something overly complicated -- it will be a lot of frustration for you (and a LOT of assistance from staff--generally more than most people will have time to provide for a class paper). As you move along in your carreer, and understand the basics of reading codebooks, writing programs to read raw data, merging files, etc., etc., you will become more comfortable working with more complicated data sets.
In general, for your early course work, you should think about topics that are interesting to you, and that are related to what you might want to pursue in more detail later on. Find a data set that has some measure for your dependent variable, as well as several useful independent variables (and, importantly, variables that meet the criteria of the assignment, e.g., a linear dependant variable). Note that it is better to have fewer but more applicable variables than to wallow around in hundreds of variables trying to see what pans out.
How much time do I have? (Or, AGHH! What can I possibly do now that I have waited so long???)
However, if your deadline is approaching, and you still don't have any data, there are several useful (and heavily used) studies immediately available, such as the General Social Survey, or the American National Election Studies. These studies generally have adequate data for class assignments (although probably not for advanced analyses courses...).
See some of the many resources available for Choosing a Topic.