Archiving data

The practice of archiving research data usually takes place after your project is complete. The phrase refers to the selection, storage, sharing, licensing and long term preservation of your research data, so that others can access the data and re-use it as required.

What benefit is there to archiving data?

Archiving data can be daunting. Many researchers fear they'll lose their competitive edge, are wary others will misinterpret their data and have concerns about their methods being open to scrutiny.

There are lots of benefits to be gained though – just think about what you get from using other people's data. For example, access to data:

  • Allows independent validation of results
  • Increases the impact and visibility of research
  • Makes best use of investment by avoiding replication
  • Leads to new collaborations and partnerships
  • Advances science when datasets are combined in new and innovative ways

By planning to share your data from early in your project you can find a method of providing access that you're comfortable with.

Do I need to archive my data once my research project has finished?

It's possible there are specific requirements on you to archive your data:

  • Many research funders expect data to be archived wherever possible. The Digital Curation Centre (DCC) provides an overview of funders' data policies including data archiving requirements. More detailed descriptions of each policy are also available
  • Some publishers, for example the Nature Publishing Group, require authors to make data available as a condition of publishing. There is also a growing trend to link publications to the datasets which underpin the findings
  • Research data can be requested under Freedom of Information legislation.

It's easier to meet access requests if your data is organised and well documented, so plan early.

Am I allowed to share my research data?

Research data is typically a bundle of different types of information and content, some of which you may have created yourself as part of your research, or some of which may have been sourced from a third party.

Data itself is not protected by copyright legislation; however data can be bundled into collections which may be subject to copyright protection. Even in instances where copyright does not apply it does not mean you can freely share your data; it could still be subject to other laws governing confidential information or personal data.

The CREATe Centre at the University of Glasgow have produced a guide to ownership rights in research data which explains some of the considerations you should make when preparing to share your research data. Access the University of Glasgow's Introduction to ownership of rights in research data‌.

Should I archive all my data?

Selecting what data to archive, and what to dispose of or delete, is an important part of data archiving. It is always going to involve a subjective judgement - nobody knows exactly what information is going to be required in the future.

However, you must ensure that you meet any stipulations made by the funder and follow GCU's Information Retention and Disposal Guidelines.

It may seem easier to just archive all your data but selection is important because:

  • Storage costs money
  • Storage requires effort and staff hours
  • Storing large volumes of data complicates the discovery of truly useful information
  • Freedom of Information legislation means that what is kept needs to be disclosed if requested.
How do I know what data to keep?

Base these decisions on questions such as:

  • What data does my funder or the university require me to keep?
  • Is this data 'vital' to the project or organisation?
  • Do I have the legal and intellectual property rights to keep and re-use this data? If not, can these be negotiated?
  • Is there sufficient documentation to explain the data, and allow the data or record to be found wherever it ends up being stored?
  • If I need to pay to keep the data, can I afford it?

At a minimum it is usually expected that any data which underpins your research outputs should be archived.

Where can I archive my research data?

You can deposit your data with specialist data centres, archives and repositories. The DCC has a list of UK data centres by discipline, so you can check if there's provision in your field. It might also be possible to submit the data underpinning your research to the journal who has accepted your work for publication.

Alternatively you may wish to make certain data and information available through an institutional data repository. GCU does not currently have access to a data repository, however the library is in the process of procuring a solution which will support and underpin the University's Research Data Management Policy. If you have any queries please contact us.

Why is preservation important?

Storing your research data in one or more places does not guarantee its longevity. Making backups is a good way to keep data available in the short term, but preservation means active management in the long term.

Without effective preservation, you run the risk of:

  • Formats not being compatible with future software and files being unreadable
  • Files being altered when opened with new software so they are no longer understandable or reliable for continued research
  • Storage media (particularly portable media) degrading and materials being lost
  • Data not being understandable as there is no supporting documentation which has survived

As a researcher you are usually required to retain your data for 10 years from the date of last access, although some funder requirements may vary. Most data centres and repositories will meet these preservation requirements but it is ultimately up to you to ensure that the place you choose to archive your data will fulfil your preservation requirements.

How can I protect my rights when sharing my research data?

You should always apply a licence to any research data you archive. A licence is a statement in which a legal rights holder gives permission to use something protected by law under certain conditions. This sounds complicated but the practice of licensing your research data is actually very simple. The CREATe Centre at the University of Glasgow have produced a guide to research data licensing which will assist you in understanding the issues around licensing and help you to choose the most appropriate licence for your data. Access the University of Glasgow's Choosing a license for research data guide.