Discovering research data

Before planning or undertaking a data collection activity, it is a good idea to check whether data have already been collected and shared that might be a suitable basis for your research, in whole or in part.

  • It can reassure your funder that they will not be paying for data collection unnecessarily. Some ask you to check for existing data as part of your data management plan.
  • It can save you time and effort.
  • It may enable you to broaden your evidence base beyond the data you are able to collect yourself.

Discipline-specific searches

There are many data archives around the world that specialise in certain types of data, and therefore cater to the needs of specific subject areas or disciplines. These are often the best place to start looking for data relevant to your research.


  • The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) operates a network of data centres, each specialising in a different form of geoscience data. These can be cross-searched using the NERC Data Catalogue Service.

Life Sciences

  • FAIRSharing maintains a list of databases relevant to the life sciences. You can filter the list by data types such as genomes or receptors.

Physical Sciences

Social Sciences

  • The UK Data Service is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It provides access to data generated by ESRC projects and other social, economic and population data.
  • ICPSR (Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research) is an archive of social science data based in the United States.

For a more complete selection, consult the Registry of Research Data Repositories (re3data), which maintains a list of data archives along with properties such as their subject and content type specialisms and the country in which they are based. You can search the list or browse by subject area to find relevant archives, then follow the links provided to search them individually.

General searches

If you cannot find a data archive for your subject area, or cannot find relevant data in the archives you have tried, it may be worth performing a general search across many different archives, including generalist data repositories. The following are search tools you might consider trying:

  • is maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Scientific and Technical Information. It cross-searches various data catalogues including DataCite and the ICSU World Data System, and also repositories of academic papers and reports.
  • DataCite Search allows you to search across all datasets that have been assigned a DOI.
  • The Data Citation Index is part of Thomson Reuters' Web of Science. Once you have found an interesting dataset, it will show you the papers that acknowledge using those data.
  • There are several catalogues at the European level that contain dataset records, including EUDAT B2FIND, the European Union Open Data Portal and OpenAIRE.