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Can I reuse other people's data?

Social network category boxWhen reusing other people's data, it is worth considering:‌

  • Citation: data should be cited appropriately in order to give credit to the data creators. Cite datasets for the same reasons you cite books and journal articles: for dataset creators to receive appropriate credit for their work, and to make clear the antecedents to your research. See Citing data for more information.
  • Purpose: are the new questions similar to, or very different from, the questions of the original researchers?
  • Discovery: Many datasets are not discoverable through a search engine. They may however be available on the sites listed at the bottom of this page, you can search journals for references to datasets, or ask a member of the Library Academic Liaison team.
  • Acquisition: Even when the original creators say they offer dataset access, they may not respond to requests; be persistent.
  • Cost: If you need a pay-for dataset, contact your Academic Liaison Librarian to investigate whether the library can purchase it.
  • Licensing: Some dataset owners currently impose strict reuse requirements. In order to make sure you are allowed the use of the data you want, please read any data licence carefully. Where research involves usage of third party data, terms and conditions associated with the use of third-party data should be carefully scrutinised as there are likely to be copyright and/or licensing issues attached. These may have an impact on what data can be used for in the future. It is also important to ensure the data does not have any ethical restrictions associated with it; for example, it relates to non-anonymised human data as this may also affect the conditions of reuse.
  • Security: Datasets with licensing or other confidentiality restrictions may be subject to strong data security.

... and prepare for

  • Data cleansing: datasets may be poorly organised, or only available in difficult-to-reuse forms.
  • Data interpretation difficulties: many existing datasets lack necessary data dictionaries or other necessary documentation.
  • Data disappearance: online datasets can and do disappear without warning (although those deposited in repositories tend to live longest).

Where to find data

Generally, research datasets are published by the University, research groups, data centres and discipline-based data repositories that have been established by research funders and researcher communities. As the number of repositories for research grows, it can be more difficult to find relevant datasets. The sites below are effectively catalogues for research data and can be very useful in helping find datasets related to your subject: 




Research Data team

University of St Andrews Library
North Street
St Andrews
KY16 9TR
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: (01334) 462343