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Research Data Management

guides and tips to data management

Generating Data

Your project involves designing a research plan. Once you have decided on a topic, done background research, and come up with a hypothesis.  You will need to pick a research method to test that hypothesis.  Each type of research method might use a number of different research techniques which result in data outputs in multiple formats.  Each of these data outputs and formats needs to be managed.  Examples of each are below.

Research Methods Research Techniques Data Outputs Data Formats
Re-analysis/Meta-analysis Using an NMR Photographs Physical Samples
Observational Programming in Fortran Blood Samples Paper
Experimental Running a Western blog Computer Programs Electronic files

Synthesizing Chemicals

Field Notebooks  
Theoretical Mapping in ArcGIS Graphs of Spectra  

You will generate data during the creating, processing, and analyzing stages of your project.

Organizing Data

You can organize your data by time, experiment, sample, instrument, user, etc.  Just make sure that all your data is organized consistently.  Don't organize half your data by sample and half by instrument.

Folder Structure

Piling Filing
Flat folder structure Hierarchical folder structure
Every folder is at the same level Folders are nested inside each other
More descriptive file/folder names are needed A README file is needed to describe which files are in which folders

Folder and File Names Having a file naming convention organizes your data and makes it easier for you to find where information is stored and shows that you have thought through your research plan.

  • Make it meaningful
  • Provide context so it will be a unique file
  • Use only one period and before the file extension
  • Dates should be formatted like this: YYYYMMDD (e.g., 20150209)
  • Put dates at the beginning or the end of your files, not in the middle, to make it easy to sort files by name
    • OK:
      • DST_FileNamingScheme_20151216
      • 20151216_DST_FileNamingScheme
    • AVOID
      • DST_20151216_FileNamingScheme
  • For sequential numbering, use leading zero
    • 1-10 should be numbered 01-10
    • 1-100 should be numbered 001-010-100
  • Do not use special characters: & , * % # ; * ( ) ! @$ ^ ~ ‘ { } [ ] ? < >
  • Some people like to use a dash ( – ) to separate words
  • Others like to separate words by capitalizing the first letter of each (e.g., DST_FileNamingScheme_20151216)

Maintaining Data

Backups are important to make sure that you do not lose your data while you are working on your project.  They help you recover your data in case of technical failure, human error, or theft.  You generally want to have three copies of your work on different media and/or in different places.  Having backups is different from archiving your work; nor are back-ups considered preservation.

  • External hard drive
  • Flash drive
  • Cloud
    • Box
    • Email

Security is more important if you are working with sensitive data.  You might want to consider anonymizing your data, using password protection on your computer and files, or even using a computer that is not on a network.

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