United States Department of Agriculture
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Help Datasets

When you select a dataset, you will often see a README file at the top of the page or list. To find and use the data you want, it is very important to read this document. The README document contains at least three pieces of important information for you, including:


1. Table or file contents

When you select a dataset, you may see a list of numbered tables or files to choose from. Unfortunately, the name of the file rarely points you to the data that you want. The README file is the key to finding the data that you are looking for. If you want data on consumption of pineapples, for example, the README file will direct you to Table 25 in the dataset called Food Consumption released by ERS.


2. Opening data files

Some of the data files are in a format that requires special software and instructions to open. The README file contains detailed instructions that should help you open the dataset. Many of these datasets are Lotus 1-2-3 format files that can be opened with your favorite statistical or spreadsheet package (such as Microsoft Excel) but some files are in ASCII text format.


3. Data development and interpretation

Subject-area data specialists are often identified in the README file. Questions concerning the development or interpretation of datasets should be addressed to these individuals.