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Research Data Management

This guide will help researchers with managing research data as well as preparing for data management plans required by funders.

Where's my data? 

Finding and reusing your data will be easier, both for you and your fellow researchers, if you plan early in the process to how you will name your data files and what file formats you will use to store your data. If you are planning to archive or share your data, you will also want to consider best practices for describing data.

Choosing a file format

The format of the electronic data files you work with during your research may be determined by the research equipment and computer hardware and software that you utilize. However, for long-term preservation and ease of sharing, best practices may dictate that the files be converted to a different format after your project has ended. Planning for this eventuality at the outset will save time later.

Consider the following: 

  • Will your data be in a format that requires proprietary software for access?

  • If you will be depositing your data in a repository at the end of your project, does the repository have specific guidelines or requirements regarding file format?

  • What features of your data might be lost or modified in the conversion to another file format?

Stanford University Libraries - Data Management Services provides a useful overview of preferred file formats:

  • Containers: TAR, GZIP, ZIP
  • Databases: XML, CSV
  • Geospatial: SHP, DBF, GeoTIFF, NetCDF
  • Moving images: MOV, MPEG, AVI, MXF
  • Sounds: WAVE, AIFF, MP3, MXF
  • Statistics: ASCII, DTA, POR, SAS, SAV
  • Still images: TIFF, JPEG 2000, PDF, PNG, GIF, BMP
  • Tabular data: CSV
  • Text: XML, PDF/A, HTML, ASCII, UTF-8
  • Web archive: WARC

Additional helpful guidelines for selecting file formats can be found at these websites:

Naming data files

How you organize and name files will impact your ability to find the files later and to understand what they contain. You should be consistent and descriptive in naming and organizing files so that it is clear where to find specific data and what the files contain. 

A good idea is to set up a clear directory structure that includes the project title, a date, and some type of unique identifier. Individual directories may be set up by date, the researcher, experimental run, or what makes sense for you and the research. 

Information for file names

File names should allow you to identify a precise experiment from the name. Choose a format for naming files and use it consistently. 

You many consider including some of the following information in file names, but be sure to include any information that allows you to distinguish the files from one another: 

  • Project or experiment name or acronym
  • Location/spatial coordinates
  • Researcher name/initials
  • Date or date range of experiment
  • Type of data
  • Conditions
  • Version number of file
  • Three letter file extension for application-specific files

Another best practice is to include in the directory a readme.txt file that explains the naming format with any abbreviations or codes used. (More information on readme files on this page.) 

Other tips for file naming 
  • Date formats: YYYYMMDD or YYMMDD. This format ensures all files stay in chronological order, even over the span of many years. 
  • Try not to make file names too long, since file names do not work well with all types of software. 
  • Special characters should be avoided: ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ` ; < > ? , [ ] { } ' " |
  • When using a sequential numbering system, using leading zeros clarify to make sure files sort in sequential order. For example: 001, 002, ...010,011, ... 100, 101, etc. As opposed to 1, 2, ... 10, 11, ... 100, 101, ... etc. 
  • Do not use spaces. Some software will not recognize file names with spaces, and file names with spaces must be enclosed in quotes when using the command line. Examples include: 
    • Underscores: file_name.xxx
    • Dashes: file-name.xxx
    • No separation: filename.xxx
    • Camel case, where the first letter of each section of text is capitalized: FileName.xxx
Renaming files

You may already have a lot of data collected for your project and wish to organize and rename the files for easier data management. If you have too many files to rename them all manually, try one of the following applications for renaming the files: