Preserve Your Digital Research Data

Preservation refers to the managed activities needed to ensure continued access to data for as long they are required to be kept.

Some research data is unique and cannot be replaced if destroyed or lost. Sometimes you are legally required to retain and look after data for many years after the project funding has ceased.

The measures you put in place through your data management plan to maintain data integrity (e.g. secure storage, appropriate metadata to ensure its discoverability, and appropriate access provisions) will help you protect and maintain access to the evidence of your work.

Responsibilities

Massey University’s Code of Responsible Research Conduct (p. 9) says it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine what records and data should either be kept or securely disposed of, in line with any requirements set out in law, funding agreements, publisher’s agreements or through disciplinary conventions.

What Data Must You Keep?

While it may not be practical to preserve all the primary material (such as ore, biological material, questionnaires or recordings), you must retain certain types of research data and records of research activities for compliance reasons and to ensure you can continue to validate your research results.

You should adhere to the retention periods that relate to your data. After the retention period is over, you may choose to archive or dispose of your data.

Retention periods vary depending upon the data and upon the research to which it relates. Retention requirements are specified in:

Further advice:

Digital data is particularly vulnerable to threats such as media degradation or obsolescence, which compromise your ability to maintain access and usability.

Long-Term Data Preservation Options

One way to preserve your data for the long term is to deposit it in a discipline-specific data repository or archive. Find out more about discipline-specific repositories and archives.

You should also ask your supervisor or school to recommend any long-term storage options; your journal or funder may also specify preferred data repositories.

File Formats for Long-Term Access

A file format describes the way information is organised in a computer file. File formats apply to the following types of files:

  • documents
  • images
  • audio
  • video
  • research data sets

File formats and the software needed to open and use the files can become obsolete, leaving the data inaccessible. Before you store your data, consider the longevity of the file formats you choose. Select formats that are:

  • Widely used within your discipline
  • Open and non-proprietary

Such formats are typically developed and maintained by communities of interest, and technical information about the formats is publicly available.

For example:

Standard image formats JPEG 2000; PNG; SVG
Text ASCII; PDF; Open Document Format; Office Open XML format (the native format for recent versions of Microsoft Word)
Web HTML; XHTML; RSS; CSS
Some scientific data Net CDF

 

Often, research disciplines have a mandatory or preferred standard for saving and storing research data (e.g. SPSS data files for social science data sets).

Further advice:

Tools:

  • DROID (a free tool that will automatically profile a wide range of file formats. For example, it will tell you what file versions you have, their age and size, and when they were last changed)

Preserve Your Research Data Tool Kit

Researcher Development

Contact Us

Research Data Management Librarian
Guidance, training opportunities and practical support.

Research Development Team
Data management (funder retention requirements) advice for current and future research projects.

Information Technology Services (ITS)
Data-related services and advice on storage, backup, security, data quality, and metadata identification. Limited software for home installation.

Contact a Subject Librarian
Personal research help by email, phone, or appointment.

Acknowledgements

These guidelines are informed by information provided under open licenses by other organisations including:

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