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Research Data Management: Data Management Plan

Guide on research data management, with resources and tools for data planning, data organization, data documentation, data sharing, data security, data analysis and visualization

Data Management Plan

A data management plan (DMP) is a written document that includes information about your research data: what data is going to be generated or acquired, how you will manage, store and document your data, and at the end of the research project how you plan to preserve and/or share your data for long term accessibility. 

It is best to consider data management issues in the early stages of a research project, but it is never too late to develop a DMP. It is also a living document that may change and evolve as the course of your research changes. 

You may have already considered data management issues for your project, but writing them down helps you formalize the process and retain a record. It prompts you to plan ahead for data collection, storage, organization, documentation, preservation and sharing. 

  • you may get hold of necessary resources before starting the project (e.g. storage space, institutional support)
  • your will make data backup plans to avoid sudden data loss 
  • your data will be robust and understandable, especially when staffing changes happen in your research group 
  • you may increase research efficiency and save time in the long term
  • your data will be preserved in the near, middle, and distant future
  • your data can be easily shared at the end of the project, creating collaboration opportunities and lasting research impact 

Data Organization

At the start of your research project, you should think about how best to organize your data and files. Come up with naming conventions and folder structures that is intuitive and easy to maintain. It will help you and your collaborators locate files easily and potentially save time and effort. 

Data Storage and Security

Your data are the life blood of your research. If data gets lost, recovery could be slow, costly or basically impossible. It is important to ensure that all your data are stored securely, with copies at multiple locations and backed up regularly. 

Documentation

Data documentation is crucial to ensure that your data is understandable and reusable. It provides context and supplementary information to your data, such as a list of variables and their meanings,  the method for data collection and processing, software required, etc. It will help other researchers who want to understand your research, and also help you when you need to revisit your own data after a few months or a few years. 

Ownership and Rights

As a researcher, you should clarify ownership and rights relating to research data before a project starts. Ownership and rights will determine how the data can be managed into the future, thus should be documented early in a project.

Data sharing

Data sharing is increasingly a mandatory requirement by funders or publishers. It will also help you make your research more visible and attract potential collaborations. 

Data preservation

After you've finished your research, it is time to consider what data to keep and what data to discard. This may be a tough decision, but storing redundant data is expensive. Consider what data may be easy to regenerate and what data is unique, valuable and hard to reproduce. 

First, if you are preparing a DMP to meet funder requirement, take a look at any specific requirement or template from the funder. 

There are tools, samples and resources available to help you craft a DMP, some of them listed below. 

The what, why and how of data management planning

Advising PhD students on data management planning

Richard Rodger, Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Edinburgh, talks about the advice he 
gives his PhD students about data management planning.

Data management plan during a PhD

Ellie Bates, PhD student, talks about the importance of a data management plan in the timely completion of a PhD and offers advice to new researchers.

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