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Research Data Management: Evaluate your needs

What data?

Knowing what sort of data you have is often obvious. However, clearly defining your data will help you to make decisions about how to best manage it, including retention and sharing of the data once the research is complete.

  • Are you generating the data or sourcing it from somewhere else under certain terms and conditions?
  • Is the data digital or non-digital, or both?
  • How will the data be output or collected? What instruments or tools will be used to produce the data?
  • What transformations will the data undergo? What software or file formats will you use as you work with the data?
  • Will the data be updated or become redundant as you make revisions and produce subsequent versions?
  • Is the data sensitive or confidential?
  • Is the data from a clinical trial?
  • Does the data have community or heritage value?
  • Is there ethics approval, or is ethics approval required?

The answers to these questions will reveal the different forms that your data might take; the characteristics of the data; and the likely size and potential growth of your data collections. These are important when considering data storage, retention and version control.

How do you know what you've got?

Once you've got your data, how are you going to keep track of what is what? Metadata is essential for interpreting the data during the project and later.

  • How will the data be organised or formatted so that everyone working on it now and in the future knows the origins of the data?
  • Is there a data dictionary?
  • Are there file naming conventions?
  • Is there adequate metadata within the dataset (e.g. descriptive field labels or column headings) or is additional information required to interpret the data?
  • How will you identify different versions?

Whose data is it?

  • Is the data for your own individual project or for a collaborative effort?
  • Are you a student or a staff member?
  • Have you signed an agreement about the intellectual property ownership?
  • Is there industry involvement in the project or commercialisation considerations?
  • How is the project funded? Does the funding body have requirements on how the data is managed?
  • If you have sourced the data from elsewhere, are there terms and conditions that restrict or dictate what you can do with data?
  • Does copyright subsist in the data? Find out more about copyright and data in the Australian National Data Service's Copyright, Data and Licensing guide.

Determining ownership and rights can be difficult. Refer to relevant University policies and, if your project is collaborative, discuss and document an agreement with all partners.

How do you need to work with the data?

    • Who is working with the data? Are collaborators internal or external?
    • Where will you be when you access the data?
    • Are there security considerations? Is access to the data restricted?
    • What will be the impact if you lose some data? If you cannot afford to lose it, how will you protect it?
    • If you use third-party tools and resources to work with the data, do their terms and conditions of use match your expectations?
    • Are your file formats durable and accessible; are you using specific software?

    Thinking about who is involved with the data will help you make appropriate storage and access provisions. Any decisions and protocols about data management may need to be communicated with these people.

    What happens when the project wraps up?

    Even if you are at the very beginning of a project, consider what will happen to the data when the project is complete as that will inform the way you manage your data now.

    • How will the data be published or shared? Not the article - the dataset or data collection itself.
    • Is the data sensitive? Do you need to de-identify and confidentialise the data? Consult the Australian National Data Service's Sensitive Data: Publishing and Sharing guide for further information.
    • Did you get ethics approval for publishing or sharing the data? Consult the Australian National Data Service's Ethics, Consent and Data Sharing guide for further information.
    • If you have an article accepted by a journal, does the publisher have requirements for how you archive the data? Does the publisher have a data sharing policy?
    • Are there discipline specific repositories for archiving the data?
    • Is the data citable? Does it have a digital object identifier (DOI) or another type of identifier?
    • Have you cited the data in your article?
    • Will the data be published under a license to allow reuse?
    • Have you deposited the final data in

    Thinking about how the data will be used by yourself and others, both now and in the future, will help you to plan.


    How are you going to manage this?

    These questions highlight the range of issues you might have to consider in relation to your data. It may be helpful to document your approach for your own reference, for your collaborators' understanding, and for reporting to your research funders.

    A data management plan that documents your data management decisions and defines who is responsible will help you. Go to the 'Create a plan' tab of this guide for further help.

    Key contacts

    Adelaide Enterprise manages the University of Adelaide's commercial research. 

    Need further information on research data and ethics? Visit the Office of Research Ethics, Compliance and Integrity.