Having a well-considered plan for the structure and organisation of your research data will improve it's management, access, and re-use. The organisation of data is especially important in team projects where more than one person will be accessing and analysing the data.
The key methods and approaches to consider are:
By working with file formats that are widely-used, interchangeable and with good long-term preservation qualities, you will improve the impact and reach of your research outputs. Choosing good formats will improve the accessibility of your research and make it easier for yourself and other future researchers to use or reuse with a wide range of computer systems regardless of available software packages.
When performing research it’s often necessary to use specialised and proprietary file formats. This may be for many reasons: your method of data analysis; the hardware used; the software available to you or to meet discipline-specific standards. Regardless of these issues, it’s still important to make a conscious and informed decision on choosing file formats. At a minimum you should consider:
At later stages of your research, such as when publishing traditional research outputs or making your data publicly available, you should consider transferring your data to a file format that can be utilised by people who may not have access to the exact suite of software you have. The UK Data Service Recommended Formats table can help you use a file format best suited to long term accessibility.
Digital file names are important for identifying and finding a digital file. To maximize access to your records, establishing a naming convention for your files is recommended. A file naming convention is a framework for naming your files in a way that describes what they contain and how they relate to other files.
It is essential to establish a convention before you begin collecting files or data in order to prevent a backlog of unorganised content that will lead to misplaced or lost data. The most important things to remember about file naming are:
The following examples highlight basic principles of file naming.
20201024_Registry of participants_Survey.doc
crt doc scan.pdf
Lit review, bib., chpt2-4, rev, cvr page, appendices.docx
Over the duration of a research project, a dataset will undergo many changes. They may be as simple as adding more sets of findings, or as major as the addition of a new dimension or type of measurement. Considering how you will deal with these scenarios is important for 2 reasons:
One of the tools used to address these scenarios is versioning. This refers to a system of keeping the old versions of a file and tracking the changes made in each subsequent version.
The most basic forms of versioning are manual systems. These usually contain two important elements:
These are outlined in the ARDC Versioning guide and the UK Data Service Version Control and Authenticity page linked below.
While a manual system can work for many research projects, they can become difficult to use once your needs become complex or multiple people begin working on the same dataset, as explained in the video below. In these cases you should consider using version control software - Git is the best known and most widely used of this type of software.
JhaiChrispy. (2010, December 9). Version control overview [Video file]. https://youtu.be/6_JtvswKzII
Like file naming, systems to organise folder and file directories require coherence and consistency.
Coherence - Anyone using the folders should be aware that there is a system and what it means.
Consistency - Anyone using the folders should be consistent in creating folder names in line with the system, but also in keeping the relevant files in the appropriate folders.
This will ensure that it is easy to locate, organise, navigate and understand the context of all files and versions.
Other concepts to consider include: