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Data Management

Resources for managing research data including storage, archiving, and sharing as well as writing data management plans.

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Managing your data

Managing your data may seem daunting at first, but there are really four components: planning, documenting, storing, and sharing. This best practices guide will help you build your own plan to manage your data.


If you start with a data management plan, when it comes time to tie up your research, everything will be easier.

Basic project information

Your plan should contain basic information about the project and about those involved.

  • What is the point of this project?
  • Who are your partners?
  • What grant number do you need to cite when publishing?
  • Contact information for everyone involved int eh projet
  • All the locations your data might live
  • How your data are organized
  • Project timelines

File naming

Planning how you are going to name your files will help you find files easier, avoid duplication, and help you close-out projects quicker. When naming files remember to:

  • Be consistent
  • Be descriptive
  • Be brief (less than 25 characters is best
  • Use underscores instead of spaces to separate words/dates
  • Stick to letters and numbers (no characters)
  • Use the NISO standard for dates: YYYYMMDD


sample file naming structure

File Structure

There are many ways to structure your files. Ultimately you just want to have a plan, and document it so that others will both know where to put files they are working on, and how to find your files when they need them.  Some options are:

  • Separate folders for each project
  • Separate folders for each type of data
  • Separate folders for each day (works well if you use electronic lab notebooks)

Or even a combination of the three. Just make sure whatever structure you choose, you stick with.




When it comes to documentation, think of how you would explain your procedures to

  • Someone inside your research group/lab
  • Someone outside of your research group/lab, but in your field
  • Someone outside of your field

There are two components you want to document: your methods, and your metadata.


Your methods can be documented in a number of ways, including codebooks and data dictionaries. Be sure to document:

  • How you gathered the data
  • How others should interpret the data
  • The limitations of what you could do with the data


Documenting your metadata will help you sort and organize your work more efficiently.

Project-level metadata

  • Title
  • People involved
  • Key dates
  • Funders/grants

Data-level metadata

  • Title
  • Key dates
  • Creator(s)
  • Subjects
  • Rights
  • Included files
  • Format(s)
  • Versions
  • Checksums

Metadata schema (find out which one your discipline uses - there are many)

If none of the schema are appropriate to your research, create a standard yourself that contains similar information:

  • Contributor: Julie Jackson
  • Creator: Catherine Smith
  • Date: 20150319
  • Description: Microscopy image of liver tissues under 20x zoom. This image is my control, so it has only the standard staining described on 20150120 in my notebook.
  • Format: JPEG
  • Identifier: IMG00914.jpg
  • Relation: Same sample as images IMG00910.jpg to IMG00917.jpg
  • Subject: Breast cancer
  • Title: Cancerous liver tissue control




When storing your data follow these guidelines:

  • Share data should live in a shared space
  • Data should live in more than one place
    • 2 onsite, 1 offsite
  • Data should be systematically backed up
  • Be aware of security issues
    • HIPAA, FERPA, FISMA, human research subjects, etc...

Storage options

Local options:

  • Computer
  • CD/DVD/flash drive
  • External hard drive
  • Server
  • Tape backup

Cloud services:

  • Box
  • SpiderOak
  • Crashplan
  • Github
  • GoogleDrive


We have all heard the horror stories of research lost due to poor/no backup procedures. Remember:

  • Anything is better than nothing
  • Schedule it and make sure you do it
  • If you can automate it - even better
  • Test your backups regularly
  • Check your funding guidelines to see how long you need to hold on to backup versions
  • Your research is only as safe as your backup plan



When you start a research project, think of how you plan to share the results. Does your funding agency have requirements? What about the publisher where you will be reporting your findings - do they want you to include the data?

Sharing your data can:

  • Increase the visibility of your research
  • Facilitate new discoveries
  • Meet funding agency requirements

Sharing tools

The University is in the midst of building an institutional repository to support access and preservation of the research happening on campus. In the meantime, there are a number of tools available to help you share your work.

  • Figshare
  • Github
  • Funding agency repositories
  • Publisher repositories
  • Disciplinary repositories - check re3data for a list