Simple Steps to Manage Your Data More Effectively

Data management can be an intimidating topic. However, learning how to manage your data can improve your research processes and therefore your life! Not to mention the fact that many grant funding agencies now require data management plans to be submitted with proposals. Is your interest piqued yet? Read below for some easy first steps toward managing your data.

Consider your current data practices

Here are some preliminary questions to ask yourself.

  • What data do I collect?
  • Do I follow a process for collecting and documenting my data?
  • Who contributes data–just me or others, too?
  • What format is the data in?
  • Where is the data stored?
  • Is the data being backed up?

Determine areas to improve

Compare the following suggestions to your own data practices. If you can start taking steps to improve the weaker areas, you’ll be all set.

  • Documentation – Document the processes and workflows you follow when collecting and managing your data in a README file (click here for a good example). It is also important to follow standards within your field for documenting contextual information about your data. In library jargon, this is known as metadata. To search for a metadata standard in your discipline, try the Digital Curation Centre’s helpful search tool.
  • Formats – Ideally, data should be stored in open, non-proprietary formats. This will ensure that it can be accessed well into the future. The Open Data Handbook gives a good overview of open formats. This can be as simple as saving files as a CSV instead of Excel spreadsheet or a text file instead of Microsoft word document.
  • Storage – IU offers several options for data storage. You can store your data on the cloud through IU Box, which also provides excellent versioning and collaborative functionality. For sensitive or large data sets, you can use the Scholarly Data Archive. Whatever you do, just make sure that you are backing up your data and not just relying on your hard drive to keep your data safe. Also note that these options do not ensure long-term preservation. For this, you should consider adding completed data sets to the IU institutional repository, IUScholarWorks (IUSW).
  • Sharing and Access Opening up your data won’t be appropriate for all researchers, but those whose research is complete should consider storing their data in IUSW to promote discoverability and access to their data.

Get help

Data management advice is nearly impossible to generalize, especially in a short blog post! Contact Stacy Konkiel, Science Data Management Librarian, at skonkiel@indiana.edu with questions, comments, or to schedule a one-on-one consultation about how the IU Libraries Data Management Service can help you manage your data.