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Data Organization and Documentation

A guide for improving the organization, documentation, and long-term preservation of digital research data.

What is Research Data?

The White House Office of Management and Budget in Circular A-110 provides the following definition:

"Research data is defined as the recorded factual material commonly accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings."

In the course of answering a research question, researchers collect a wide variety of forms and formats of data. Research data can reside in:

  • Spreadsheets
  • Digital images
  • Video and audio files
  • Survey responses
  • Slides and specimens
  • Models and software code

These are only a few examples.

What are the benefits of organizing data?

Organizing the digital files that store research data, or even introducing a greater level of organization into the files themselves, can help improve the practice of science and make data and the files that contain them more useful in the future. By following research data management best practices for data organization and documentation, researchers can:

  • maintain compliance with funder-required data management plans and university-required retention plans
  • ensure reproducibility of research through well-documented data
  • prepare data for sharing and re-use
  • make data files "tidier," ensuring understandability of information within files
  • more effectively preserve and re-use their own valuable research data