Organising your data

Having well organised and documented data allows them to be located easily and allows their context and relationships to be understood.

Choosing data formats

Different file formats may be appropriate for data creation, data processing and for long-term preservation. The choice of formats should be detailed in the data management plan.
The format in which data are created depends upon the methods and technologies used to collect, process and analyse the data. The choice of hardware and compatible software, staff expertise and discipline specific standards and practices will also determine the formats chosen.
For more information on data formats see the UK Data Archive page ‘Formatting your data’.
Once data analysis is complete, the data can be prepared for long-term storage. Digital data is dependent upon software for access and interpretation. Since hardware and software may become obsolete, to ensure long-term accessibility, data may need converting from the original format into standard formats that are suitable for preservation. It is best practice to use standard and open formats for long-term preservation, avoiding proprietary formats, which may be readable only using particular software. The UKDA provide advice about ‘file formats for preservation’.

Naming and organising files and folders

It will be easier to locate and keep track of data files if a well organised and consistent system of file naming and folder structure is used. Appropriate file names will uniquely identify a file, enable classification and provide information about the content and its context. Consider developing and documenting a file naming convention within the project group. This should provide guidelines for vocabulary, punctuation, date format, number format, abbreviations and the order of the elements of the filename.
By controlling versions, you can avoid working on outdated files or mistakenly including deleted content in a final version. Filenames can include version numbering to indicate minor or major revisions and edits. Be consistent so everyone uses the same approach.
Folders should be structured hierarchically, grouping together files on a particular topic, and named appropriately and consistently. It is best to separate ongoing work from completed work, perhaps moving files you are no longer working on to an ‘archive’ folder on a different drive. Access permissions are easier to set near the top of a folder structure, rather than for deeply nested folders - data which needs to be accessible outside the project team may be moved / copied to a higher-level ‘accessible’ folder.
For more information on naming files see the UK Data Archive page on Organising Data, the Cambridge University Library page on Naming and Organising Files and JISC Digital Media guide to Choosing a filename.

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