Preserving data

At the end of a project, you will need to decide which of your research data to preserve and dispose of. Where possible, data selected for long-term preservation should be made as discoverable and accessible as permitted. This is normally done by submitting the data to a discipline-specific or institutional repository, or a funder-established data centre. Some data cannot be made publicly available, due to personal or commercial sensitivity for example, and may be preserved but not shared. In these cases, you should contact IT Services for advice on data storage options.

Data selection and disposal

Decisions about preserving data should begin during the data management planning stage, and should take into account institutional, funder and repository requirements. Most funders expect data underlying published papers, and other data of long-term value, to be preserved for 10 to 30 years and made available if possible. For projects with extremely large datasets, retaining full datasets may not be possible. In these instances, it may be appropriate to dispose of datasets when no longer required, but to retain data samples, along with detailed methodologies or code to allow the data to be recreated.

The Digital Curation Centre provides advice on deciding what data to keep.

Files that are not required for long-term preservation should be deleted when they have fulfilled their purpose. Researchers have a legal responsibility for collected data, and sensitive data should be disposed of in an appropriate manner.

Further guidance on the retention and disposal of data can be found in the University’s records retention schedule and at the UK Data Service.

Long-term data preservation

Data selected for preservation must be kept securely after the end of a research project. Sensitive data should be handled in line with consent agreements, including deleting anonymisation ‘keys’ as appropriate, maintaining traceability for medical studies as required and ensuring the secure storage of personal data.

Many research funders specify which data need to be preserved, how long for, and where they should be deposited. The Digital Curation Centre provides information about the major funders’ data policies. This includes UKRI best practice, which recommends that data underpinning publications should be accessible for at least 10 years after publication.

Since hardware and software may become obsolete over time, data should be converted into standard or open formats for long-term accessibility and preservation. Find out more about choosing data formats from the UK Data Service.

Physical data in the form of paper records, such as consent forms or participant responses, may be stored for a fixed period of time in the University Records Centre. Enquiries should be made to the Records Management Team at records@sheffield.ac.uk

For further information, please contact rdm@sheffield.ac.uk