The format in which your data files are stored, will be determined by the type of data you collect e.g. textual, numerical, geospacial, image, etc.
Specialised collection methods or software needed to interpret these data can determine what format your data will take, but it is still important that formats promote long-term preservation and facilitate access. In some cases, it might be necessary to convert data to more sustainable formats.
Consider formats that are:
The UK Data Service provides a list of recommended file formats for various data types.
A file name is the principle identifier of the data file. Maintaining a clear, meaningful, and consistent naming practice will help you find the right data quickly.
Choose elements that are meaningful and relevant to your data. Remember to be consistent and agree to conventions if working in a group. Elements include:
The UK Data Service provides more guidance on file names.
It is important to keep track of the changes you make when processing and analysing data. Recording changes and saving these different versions can save you time if you make a mistake and need to go back or want a record of your work. Remember to always save a master file of the raw or unprocessed data!
The UK Data Service provides more guidance on version control and authenticity.
Structuring your files will make it easier to find and keep track of your data. As with file names, use what is meaningful to your data and be consistent.
The UK Data Service provides more guidance on file structuring
Data needs a context if it is to be understood. Throughout your research project, you will need to comprehensively document and describe your data. This will give it a context making it understandable and useable for others. It will also save you time if you have to go back to your data in a month, a year, or five years.
Documenting and describing data is not as difficult as it sounds. In fact, you are probably already doing this! It can be as easy as keeping a lab notebook or making a record of what you are doing.
You understand your research better than anyone else, so you are in the best position to answer this. Ask yourself, 'what is needed for someone else to understand my data?'
Three levels of data documentation that can help create a context are:
Do not wait until the end of the project to start documenting! Keep notes and a record throughout the research project.
For project-level documentation, use your Data Management Plan to guide you. Fill in the information as it comes.
For data-level documentation, it can be as simple as a notebook, but there are other tools available, many of which are free. Some include:
The UK Data Service provides more guidance on data documentation and resources