Planning to manage your data

We’ve talked a bit about Research Data Management (RDM) on this blog before, with a post from our Research Repository Advisor in Library Services and another from a current PGR.   However, now that there is a requirement for all PGRs who started their research programmes in or after September 2017 to produce a Data Management Plan (DMP) in advance of their first annual review, it seems a good time to revisit this topic, with a focus on DMPs.

A DMP is a living document that outlines how data are to be handled during and after a research project.  A good DMP will protect you against data loss and ensure you have well-documented data to assist with writing up and possible future data sharing.

For a DMP, the first thing to do is to identify the research data that we will be using or creating during the course of the research project.  Although there are many different definitions of research data, you might consider the broadest possible definition for your DMP, encompassing everything from data you have collected (e.g. lab measurements, interview recordings/transcripts, photographs), your notes (e.g. notes from your reading, lab books), through to work you have created (e.g. your thesis drafts).  This will ensure that you get the maximum benefit from your DMP.

xao_hksi_400x400Once you have identified the research data you will be collecting and creating, you can start to build your DMP.  The University has some templates to help you do this, available as a Word document or as an online, interactive template in DMPOnline.

Here are some of the things you may need to consider when completing your DMP:

  • Version control, file structure, and data documentation – how will you store and label your data so that you and others (e.g. your supervisor or collaborators) will be able to understand which file is which?  Version control is particularly useful when working with thesis drafts.
  • Backup – store your data to ensure that it is appropriately backed up, using a service such as BEAR DataShare (up to 25GB available for free to all PGRs – or contact IT Research Support to discuss your requirements).
  • Sensitive data – does your research involve human participants or intellectual property?  If so, you will need to consider the impact this has on the way you manage your data, using techniques such as anonymisation, and the way data management will affect consent forms.  You or your supervisor may have already made decisions on this as part of the ethical review process or your sponsorship arrangements.
  • File formats – ensuring your data remains accessible even when software changes.
  • Long-term archiving and possible data sharing – how will your data be stored in the long term?  Will you share your data with other researchers once your project is complete?

For further advice on creating your DMP:

One final note – once you have written your DMP, please follow the advice you have given yourself!  Your DMP should be a living document, which is revisited regularly and updated as your research project develops.  It’s there to help you guard against data loss (a huge disaster for a PGR) and ensure you can make the most effective use of your research time.

Have you written your DMP?  Do you have any advice for PGRs just starting to do so?

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Helen Kara

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