Good research data management practices also include deciding what research materials should be retained and preserved beyond the lifetime of a research project, and which data should be destroyed.
Ideally, you should consider which research data you will retain and preserve before you even begin your project, either in a data management plan or in a pathways to impact statement as part of a funding application, which might include some long-term objectives around data re-use.
UKRI’s Common principles on data policy hold that research data with acknowledged long-term value should be preserved and remain accessible and usable for future research. If your research has been funded by a research council or funding body, it may be a condition of your grant to retain research data for a minimum period. The University’s Research Data Management Policy also recommends that research data go through an appropriate selection and appraisal process to identify data for preservation at the end of a research project.
On this page, you’ll find guidance on how to appraise, evaluate and select research materials for preservation, and how to prepare your research data for preservation.
Appraising and selecting data for preservation
Not all research data need to be kept; indeed in many cases it would be impractical to keep everything. It might seem safest to keep all of the research materials that you generate during the course of your project, but this will clutter up your storage space and may lead you to incurring additional storage costs. It will also make it harder for you to find the valuable files and materials that you do need to refer to again in the future.
The material you decide to keep will vary from project to project, but, in general, you should keep:
- All data underpinning publications (ie the research materials that evidence your research process or creative practice, the sources that substantiate your thesis, or the research data that would be needed to replicate your findings)
- Data that has high potential for re-use and therefore has long-term value to you and your research field
- Data that must be stored for policy, legal or contractual reasons (eg participant consent forms, or the evidence that underpins a patent application)
- Data that cannot be easily reproduced, or would be too expensive to reproduce
- Data that are re-used regularly by your group or in your field
For a detailed guide to selecting research data for preservation, refer to the Digital Curation Centre’s Five steps to take to decide what data to keep, which includes a template data appraisal to help you decide what research materials you must, should, or could keep.
The University of Bath hosts a useful table on weeding research data to help you decide which data to keep and which to delete.
You might also find it useful to refer to the NERC Data Value Checklist (PDF), or the University of Bristol Research Data Evaluation Guide (PDF).
Preparing data for preservation
Once you have selected the research data you will retain and preserve, you will need to prepare the data for deposit in a repository.
If you plan to share your data publicly or with access restrictions, your data should be made as discoverable and accessible as is permitted by funders and other stakeholders.
A simple way to do this is to make your shared data FAIR: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Re-usable.
Wherever possible, convert your files to open (non-proprietary) formats that can be used by any operating system to maximise accessibility and interoperability. Ideally, use text files, as the data will be usable even if formatting is lost. Consider exporting to CSV, XML, or JSON free-form text. Otherwise, use file formats with openly published specifications:
- DOCX, RFT or ODT for textual data
- XLSX or ODS for spreadsheet data
- SVG for figures (an open-standard vector format)
- PDF/A for PDFs (a standardised version of PDF)
- FLAC for audio (open and loses less than mp3 compression)
For more information see the UK Data Service guidance on recommended file formats.
You will also need to:
- provide or create adequate descriptive and technical metadata for the data to be found and reused by others (see describing your data)
- ensure that you meet any legal or ethical obligations to protect the data, for example, by anonymising the data, or deciding what level of access you will need to apply to the datasets (see working with commercially and personally sensitive data and restricting access to data)
You can find further guidance on preparing your data from the UK Data Service.
You can find detailed guidance on How to appraise and select research data for curation from the Digital Curation Centre, and download this detailed guide to what research data to keep (PDF) from Jisc.
You can also contact the University’s Records and Archives team via [email protected] to ask for specific advice on appraisal and selection.