Once you are actively engaged in your research, you will be collecting, processing and managing data on an ongoing basis, and here the importance of using good data management practice comes to the fore. If data are well-managed using orderly procedures and appropriate documentation, then:
- The overall efficiency of the research process is increased;
- Data are protected against corruption and loss;
- Sensitive data are processed securely in accordance with legislative and other confidentiality requirements;
- You are prepared for the completing phase of the project, when you may need to select key data for long-term retention and sharing and ensure these data are archived appropriately.
Principles of effective data management
Whatever the nature of the data you collect and process, you will need to observe basic principles of good practice in the storage, security, organisation, and documentation of your data:
- Storing Your Data: Store your data safely. Use University networked storage as the default: all data will be backed up according to standard protocols. If you use other storage media, such as external hard drives, or USB sticks, back up the data regularly, to central servers if possible;
- Security: If you are handling personal or sensitive data, make sure you understand your legal, ethical or contractual responsibilities and have appropriate processes in place, for example access controls or encryption for sharing files over unsecured systems such as email servers. Refer to the University's Information Framework policies (including the Data Protection Policy and Encryption Policy) for further guidance;
- Organising your Data: Use documented protocols to describe your data management procedures and roles and responsibilities. Ensure these are well-understood by everyone who is involved in managing and handling data in your research project;
- Documentation and Metadata: Document your data as fully as possible as close as possible to the point of collection/processing, and regularly review your metadata to ensure that it is up-to-date, accurate, and created using the required standards. This will save time and effort when you are completing your project and selecting data for long-term preservation.