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Document your data
- How do you describe the contents of your data? Do you use data dictionaries or codebooks, which explain variables and gather descriptions of codes, calculations and algorithms used?
- Do you have readme file(s) to provide information about data files to ensure they are interpreted correctly?
- What are the file naming conventions used in your data?
- What kind of directory structure you have?
- Data management software, i.e., databases and an electronic laboratory notebook, which contain details about experiments, analytical methods and the research context.
The purpose of data documentation is to make your data understandable – for you, for your partners, and for the people who will reuse your data. Without proper metadata, your data is useless.
Concentrate here on the documentation of your data sets, that is, the study-level documentation. The data-level documentation and details about experiments, analytical methods and the research context belong to the research plan.
Tips for best practices
- If you use data obtained from a third party it may be accompanied with ready-made documentation.
- Many data repositories require use of a standard metadata format. Hence, if you know where you will store or archive your data, check the requirements for metadata standards.
- It is not essential to know the exact metadata standard when applying for funding. For example, if you are co-operating with a data archive, you can describe that the decision about the standard will be made together with the archive.
- Identify the types of information that should be captured to enable other researchers to discover, access, interpret, use and cite your data.
- Create metadata with Qvain and use Etsin to open your metadata.
- Version control. Do you use software of services that automatically creates new version of your files?
- REDCap (intra) is a secure web application for building and managing online surveys and databases. The service can be used in Tampere higher education community.
- Use descriptive, informative and consistent file names.
- Keep file names as short as you can though.
- Add a readme.txt-file inside a folder if you can not include every bit of descriptive information to file names.
- Too long file names can cause file corruption and thus a loss of information or even halt a backup process.
- Special characters should be avoided.
- Avoid using spaces in file names
- Include version numbers
- Include information about the status of files or what changes were made (e.g. draft, final or reviewed)
Tips and hints
- Siiri Fuchs, & Mari Elisa Kuusniemi. (2018, December 4). Making a research project understandable - Guide for data documentation (Version 1.2). Zenodo. http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1914401