15: managing research data

November 5, 2015 – 5:45 pm


Recording Data with Bird in Hand. [Photography].

Research Data

So far on the 23 Research Things journey, you will have learned about the variety of tools to help you develop, communicate and present your research. This week we deal with something which you can spend a lot of time gathering, and analyzing, maybe sharing, or even tearing your hair out over- it’s your research data.

What is Research Data?

Research data can be facts, observations, images, computer program results, recordings, measurements or experiences that support an argument, theory, test or hypothesis or another research output.

Data can be text, numbers, images, sounds, artefacts, specimens or samples, and can exist in digital and physical formats. It can be in the form of documents, spreadsheets and presentations, laboratory notes, surveys, films, and slides, to name just a few!

You may not even use all the data that has been accumulated over the course of your research project, but you never know when you may need to revisit it, or need to provide it to support your findings, so not only do you need to accumulate it and store it, it needs to be managed.

Research Data Management though is a huge part of the research process, and I can tell you is that it’s becoming increasingly important- especially if you are funded for your research and if your research has required ethics approval.

Funding bodies are becoming increasingly aware of the need to ensure data is properly managed and stored, as the following  funding rules from the Australian Research Council state

Researchers and institutions have an obligation to care for and maintain research data in accordance with the NHMRC/ARC/UA Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007). The ARC considers data management planning an important part of the responsible conduct of research and strongly encourages the depositing of data arising from a Project in an appropriate publically accessible subject and/or institutional repository. ARC Discovery Project Funding Rules 2017 A11.5.2

Journals such as the Public Library of Science and Nature are requiring data underlying their findings to be made accessible.

If your research has required ethics approval, chances are you will have needed to complete a data management plan as part of the process.

So how do I manage my data?

One good place to start for those managing digital data is Mantra http://datalib.edina.ac.uk/mantra/

This is a free online course to assist those managing digital data, and explains data management plans, organizing data, storage and security, and documenting and citing data. There are a few online exercises aimed at reinforcing the brief clips and reading as part of the course.

ACU have a Research Data Management Toolkit which can further assist you.

8 Tips for Managing Research Data

  1. What do you plan to do with your data? Will you need to make it accessible or open as part of your funding arrangement? If you require survey respondents to complete a permission form authorizing the use of the data collected to create a publication, make mention of the data in the form. It will make your work easier if you capture this permission at the start.
  2. File Structure-There is no right way to structure your files and data, but it must be in a way that makes the data accessible and easy to locate. A consistent approach is strongly advised, so document your file management rules!
  3. Name your files meaningfully- your file name is the easiest way to find what you are looking for. This site http://www.jiscdigitalmedia.ac.uk/guide/choosing-a-file-name provides some great tips on choosing a file name.
  4. Version control- As you refine your data and your publications, you may find yourself needing to manage different versions of the same file. The “Save as..” prompt may be frequently used.
  5. Sensitive Data- all data needs to be handled well, and sensitive data especially so. Anonymising data
  6. Embed your data with tags- adding metadata to your files can help with further discoverability See http://libguides.mit.edu/metadataTools for more information.
  7. There are a multitude of storage options for Research Data, the Australian National Data Service has a list of options at http://ands.org.au/guides/storage.html You can choose from personal data options, institutional repositories, cloud-based options and discipline-based repositories. Your funding body or your institution may require you to store the data securely for a number of years.
  8. Describe your data! Research Data Australia collects metadata about datasets and is a great way to share what you have been researching. If you need any help in describing your data you can always ask a librarian 🙂

Questions for thing 15:

Check out the Mantra course- are there any takeaway messages from this site?

Have a look at https://datamanagementplanning.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/twenty-questions-for-research-data-management/

Are there any other questions you think should be asked?




Thanks to our own Stephanie McGlinchey for this post!


Image credit:
Recording Data with Bird in Hand. [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.

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  1. 11 Responses to “15: managing research data”

  2. I don’t whether other LLs have had a similar experience but I used to find that also weekly academics would ask me to show them and their HDRs “how to get organised” – and what they were describing was Research Data Management. As an ex-cataloguer I intuitively ask questions (like the 20 from the link) when I talk about research data. An additional question I ask researchers is about potential future use and opportunities (researchers are often thinking about the next project they will undertake) because these questions can impact all the previous 20 – such as how you name/describe/format/access etc

    By Tatum on Nov 6, 2015

  3. I’ve really been struggling with this “Thing” – such a lot of information. This is my third attempt.
    The 20 questions are a good place to start. I like some of the example answers, such as “At this stage I have no idea.” This might make a researcher feel better not having any answers yet.
    I looked at bits and pieces of the Mantra course two weeks ago, it’s not working today. I would recommend it to a researcher, but I’m not motivated to spend more time on it myself. My takeaway message for this “Thing”: managing research data is complex.

    By Gertrud on Nov 27, 2015

  4. I like both the Mantra and the 20 questions sites as useful links to give to researchers who need to understand what data management means. There is a lot of content on the Mantra site, which some might find a bit boring to go through. However, the “real life” tales make it more relevant. I particularly liked the video in the Security and Storage section about backing up, with the researcher describing their experience and the importance of knowing exactly what you are backing up and knowing your software.

    By Tracy Bruce on Dec 7, 2015

  5. Perhaps that is the way to sell it
    ‘how to get organised’ = Research Data Management.
    There is a lot in the Mantra website…I like the real life tales/aka that could happen to me!!

    By ACULibrary on Dec 22, 2015

  6. I have gone through the Mantra and 20 questions sites and find it interesting that a lot of the questions I intuitively ask or the suggestions I make are listed. On the right track-yay!

    By Nica on Jan 5, 2016

  7. always nice to be on a similar/right track 🙂

    By ACULibrary on Jan 7, 2016

  8. I have been thinking about Research Data Management for the social sciences and humanities and whether it differs for the sciences. I feel it does – there is a good subject guide put out by the UCLA library

    In my experience the open repositories eg. SSRN and University reositories have been effective data storage places.

    By Lesley Adukonu on Jan 12, 2016

  9. Perhaps that is one guide to suggest to the research area in the library??

    By ACULibrary on Feb 5, 2016

  10. I think this is a very important research thing, I know a PhD student who is nearing the end of her PhD, I would like to ask her the 20 questions about her data management to get a better understanding of what happens in real life in Business at ACU. I will see if i can make an appointment with her and do my own research! let you know how i go.

    By sally kudrna on Jan 15, 2016

  11. A real live case study…will be interested to know how you go!

    By ACULibrary on Feb 5, 2016

  12. I found this “thing” of extreme interest. I wish I had access to something like this when I was doing my Masters by Research! What a great resource and a good resource to link them to. When I did my primary research(during an erstwhile era and there was limited technology for this type of data management)we implemented manual methods of this very similar process. We had to retain the raw data of all our quantitative and qualitative data in case someone questioned the value of the claims and wanted to see the raw data. Now this can all be done using technology which is great. I suspect for the social sciences it is different but that is where the Digital Humanities Hubs were borne – particularly for research data that has to be embargoed based on culturally specific mores). I found the 20 questions excellent (and yes the sample answers too). I only wish I had had this tool in 1995! My take home message is if you haven’t an answer for any of the 20 questions you may wish to look for one before commencing the research proper. I would highly recommend that these resources be used in the Research Methods unit of HDR courses so that the researcher has prepared for the rime they actually commence collating the data. I found this :thing” very beneficial 🙂

    By Helena on Jan 25, 2016

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