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Research Data Management GuideClick here to chat with a librarian

Research Data Management (RDM) is the practice of managing, organising and preserving all of the information used to produce research, from the initial planning and searching through to post-publication. Navigate through the blue tabs above to learn more. This data comprises of a range of records such as notes, spreadsheets, surveys, emails, published material and grey literature.

File Management

File management is very important and needs to be considered before the data is gathered.  Folder structures or hierarchy needs to be selected together with naming conventions and then documented to ensure consistency.  Being descriptive and consistent with organising and naming files will ensure the ability to locate them and understand what they contain. 

What is metadata?

Metadata is information or documentation about data that provides a description of the content and any other characteristics relating to a dataset. 

For example, metadata can include: file type, file size, date created, date updated, physical attributes, unique identifiers, key words describing the data, and anything that summarises information about the data.

Why is metadata important?

Metadata provides valuable information regarding:

  • why the data was created or collected
  • any limitations the data may have
  • what processes were used in creating the data
  • anything else that enables the data to be accessed and properly understood

Clear metadata documentation enables the data to be easily found. It allows other users to evaluate the content and determine if they wish to access it.

How is metadata created?

Metadata can be created manually or through automation via a computer or other electronic device. For research data, it is the researcher -- or another member of the research team -- who will create the metadata describing the collected data.

Metadata standards

Metadata standards enable the best possible description of a resource type. Metadata Directory Standards is an open directory via Research Data Alliance. 

When there isn't appropriate standards-based metadata available, a 'readme' style metadata file can provide information about a data file. This readme template from Cornell University provides information that should be considered when generating a 'readme' file.

Further information

File naming

Together file naming and version control are important practices for maintaining, tracking, and recording changes to files. 

It is important to be descriptive and consistent when naming files and to develop conventions, record the conventions, and adhere to them. Ensure the file name make sense to you. Your file names could include:

  • Project name or number
  • Name of file creator
  • Researcher name/s
  • Date or date range of project
  • Type of data
  • Version number of file

File naming conventions

Below are some common conventions. 

  • Use clear, short file names using ≤25 characters
  • Avoid special characters such as @, #, & or full stops
  • Do not use spaces, instead use underscores or camel case
  • Use the ISO 8601 format for Date: YYYYMMDD
  • Use the 3 letter file extension to indicate the file format e.g. .txt, .pdf
  • Use leading zeros when using numbers to ensure files sort in sequential order: 001, 002

File formats

Accessibility and long-term preservation should be considered when deciding file formats. Open, unencrypted, and uncompressed file formats are easier to preserve.

Examples of preferred format choices include:

Containers TAR, GZIP, ZIP
Databases prefer XML or CSV to native binary formats
Moving images MOV, AVI, MXF
Presentations PDF
Statistics ASCII, DTA, POR, SAS, SAV
Still images TIFF, JPEG 2000, JPEG, PDF
Tabular data CSV
Text plain text (TXT), XML, PDF/A, HTML, ASCII, UTF-8
Web archive WARC

Further information

Version Control

Version control ensures the most recent file can be quick and easily identified and there is an audit trail of changes.

Managing changes can be done manually, by simply adding a version number or a date to the end of a file name, or with the use of version control software or tools. 

Some useful links that cover both manual and tool-based version control:

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