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Research Data Management

guides and tips to data management

Documentating and Describing Data

Documentation of your research is helpful for you if you come back to your research after a hiatus, for new students in your lab continuing a project, and for other researchers who might seek to expand on, replicate, or reuse the data from your research. Imagine that the grad student who has been doing much of the detailed research for you suddenly is no longer available.  How will information about the methods used and data collected be transferred to someone new?

It is your decision on whether you decide to archive the raw, reduced, and/or redacted data from your project.  iIf you decide to include your raw data, you should document the who, what, when, where, and how of the data collected and a description of any resulting files, graphs, tables, etc.  If you include raw data, you should document how the data has been manipulated, a description of any resulting files, graphs, tables, etc.  If you include redacted data, you should document what type of data has been omitted or how the data has been aggregated.

You might consider including a table, spreadsheet, or document with descriptive information (or metadata) about your data; especially if you have physical (non-digital) data that you collected and/or are storing.  You might want to consider generating thumbnails of large picture or movies.

README files are a convenient way to document your data as they are text files that can be read by any computer.  In your README, you might want to explain your naming and file conventions so that others can easily locate data, explain any abbreviations that are used, explain the structure or columns of your spreadsheets or other files including the headers and units of measurements,

Preserving Electronic Files

File number and sizes  As you plan and conduct your research it is a good idea to keep in mind the how many files you are generating and the sizes so that you can properly organize and store them.

In addition to depositing copies of your original files, you might want to consider converting your files to more accessible formats and depositing those also.  The more accessible your data is, the more likely it is to be downloaded or reused.

  • Non-proprietary (.txt, .csv/.tsv, .jpg, .jpg2, .tif, .pdf or pdf/a)
  • Common proprietary (Office files, SPSS files, etc.)
  • Less common proprietary (Adobe files, etc.)
  • Exclusive (ARCgis, etc.)

Also, you may be interested in DROID (Digital Record and Object Identification),  a software tool developed by The National Archives to perform automated batch identification of file formats.

Archiving Data

If you will be storing physical data, make sure that your storage space adequately meets your needs in terms of space, security, accessibility, and environmental conditions.  You will want to make sure that all your specimens are labeled and cataloged in a database or spreadsheet.  It is recommended that you deposit this catalog with your electronic data.

Your electronic data will probably include both documents and datasets.  Documents can be published and pre-prints (or post-prints depending on the publisher) can be deposited in BEARdocs.  Datasets can be deposited in subject-specific discipline repositories or in general repositories such as the Texas Digital Repository.

Depositing your data in a repository, not only provide access to it, but --more importantly -- preserves that data for the long term. Those who manage the repository are responsible for the preservation of your data. Most repositories also assign digital object identifiers (DOIs) to your data so that it can be properly cited and attributed.  In addition, some repositories allow you to control who has access to parts or all of your data.

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