When you choose a data set to view, you will often see a README file
at the top of the list. In order to find and use the data you are seeking,
it is very important to read this document. The README document
contains at least three pieces of important information for you:
1. Table or file contents
When you choose a data set, you may get a list of numbered tables or files to choose
from. Often, you cannot tell what file contains your data by looking at the name of
the file. In order to see what data is contained in these files, you must read the
README file. For example, if you want data on consumption of pineapples, you need the data
set called Food Consumption put out by ERS. But you will not know that data for pineapples
is in Table 25 unless you read the README file.
2. Opening data files
Some of the data files are in a format that requires special software and instructions
to open. We try to give assistance on how to open these files in our HELP section, but the
README file contains detailed instructions that may be unique to that data set. Make sure
to read them over. Many of these data sets are Lotus 1-2-3 format files that can be opened with your favorite
statistical or spreadsheet package (such as Microsoft Excel). Some of the files are in ASCII text format.
Some older programs are packaged with software and require a computer with MS-DOS capability.
3. Data development and interpretation
Often a subject-area data specialist will be identified in the README file.
Questions concerning the development or interpretation of data sets should be
addressed to this individual.