Choosing file formats
The formats you choose will depend on:
- How you plan to analyse your data;
- What software is compatible with the hardware that you have available;
- Preferences between proprietary and open software;
- Any discipline-specific norms (and the associated peer-to-peer support that comes with them).
You may choose certain formats during data collection and analysis but others for preservation - for example, by converting your data to standard or open formats.
You may choose or be required to submit your data to a data centre. They may convert your data to a preferred format for preservation. It's worth thinking how these decisions may affect your ability to access and re-use your data in the future.
The UK Data Archive list of preferred formats gives an indication of standards to which data centres typically work.
MIT Libraries, File formats for long-term access [WEB, approx. 1 page]
A concise description of formats that are useful for accessing files over time.
UK Data Archive, Data formats table [WEB, approx. 1.5 pages]
This table of recommended preservation formats can be consulted if your type of data is not mentioned in the above MIT guide.
The National Archives, Selecting file formats for long-term preservation [PDF, 8 pages, 158KB]
A fuller description of things to consider and offers an insight into how professional archivists see the issue.
The most appropriate file fomats will vary by discipline so find out what is standard for your discipline. Seek advice from colleagues and local support staff such as lab technicians and IT officers.