Good Data Practices

The tools available for creating digital data have outpaced our tools and strategies for managing digital data effectively. Do you struggle to find the right data? Have you ever lost data? Are your files disorganized and stored in five different places?


8 Recommendations for Good Data Practices


For upcoming studies:

  1. Know your ethical & legal obligations - to funders, to publishers, to your institution, and to your professional society.
  2. Be proactive and make a plan - Develop a functional data management plan (example) to identify potential issues and solutions for addressing them. (Think about what problems you want to avoid and plan processes to prevent them.)
  3. Choose secure storage and follow the 3-2-1 rule. Keep 3 copies of any important file (1 primary, 2 backup copies), Store files on at least 2 different media types (e.g., 1 copy on an internal hard drive and a second in a secure cloud account or an external hard drive), Keep at least 1 copy offsite (i.e., not at your home or in the campus lab)
  4. Organize your files - Figure out a system and write it down. Update as necessary. Check periodically to make sure all study personnel are following it.
  5. Identify the roles and responsibilities for each person involved with the study. Write it down.
  6. Document key information needed for all project personnel to replicate published results or for an external reviewer to verify published results. This includes study title, personnel, study proposal, raw data, cleaned & processed data, analysis scripts or protocols, visualizations, manuscripts, grant proposals, and anything else you might need in 5 years.

For ongoing or completed studies
  1. Know what you have - take an inventory of the files for a study, including data and study documentation.
  2. Know what you need to keep and for how long. Archive key data and documentation before it's lost. Upload files that need to be retained to the Scholarly Data Archive. Check back in 5 years to see if they are worth keeping. If not, delete them.

Updated Apr 28, 2016 by hcoates