Data can quickly become disorganised. It’s useful to decide how you and your colleagues will name files and organise data to make sure you can all find and use it.
By adding contextual information or 'documentation' you can make sure your data can be understood.
Your research notebook should also be well-organised.
File naming conventions allow us to name our records in a consistent and logical way so they can be located, identified and retrieved quickly and accurately.
Our guide to developing a file naming convention takes you through the steps involved, explains components of good file names, and provides examples.
You may also be interested in the Data Protection & Freedom of Information Office’s guidance on Managing, Naming and Saving Files.
When developing an electronic filing system:
- Adhere to existing procedures - check for established approaches in your team you can adopt.
- Use folders - group files within folders so information on a particular topic is located in one place.
- Name folders appropriately - name folders after the areas of work to which they relate and not after individual researchers or students. This avoids confusion in shared workspaces if a member of staff leaves and makes the file system easier for new staff or subsequent projects to navigate.
- Structure folders hierarchically - start with a limited number of folders for the broader topics, and then create more specific folders within these.
- Review records - assess materials regularly or at the end of a project to ensure files aren’t kept needlessly. Put a reminder in your calendar so you don't forget! For more information, see the Digital Curation Centre’s guide for How to Appraise and Select Research Data for Curation.
You may also need to control versions of files to avoid working on outdated files or mistakenly including deleted content in a final version. See the Data Protection & Freedom of Information Office’s guidance on Version Control for more information.
The Data Protection & Freedom of Information Office also have guidelines on good records management, including good email management.
Good documentation ensures your data can be:
- Searched for and retrieved.
- Understood now and in the future.
- Properly interpreted, as relevant context is available.
You will need to use metadata to record information about your records. Metadata is data about data. It's part of broader contextual information or 'documentation' that accompanies data to ensure it can be found and understood over time.
The UK Data Archive has an introduction to and examples of documenting your data.
What to include in documentation
There are various pieces of information that it is useful to record. Ask yourself, “What information would I need to understand and use this data in twenty years?”
You may wish to include:
- Some basic description: title, date, creator, format, subject, rights, access info.
- A list of variable / field names, coverage and their values.
- An explanation of codes, classification schema, abbreviations.
- Details about how the data were created, analysed, anonymised etc.
- Information about the project and data creators.
- Tips on usage, e.g., exceptions, quirks, questionable results.
MIT Libraries has guidelines for describing data which suggest ten elements to include.
How to create documentation
Documentation is best created alongside the data, as it is easier to capture it then, rather than trying to remember things later. Decide at the outset what you want to record and build this into your data creation processes. There are multiple ways you can add documentation to your data.
- Include information within the data or document itself, e.g., in the document properties function of a file or the file header.
- Keep a database of metadata with links to files.
- Provide standardised metadata descriptions for your data, e.g., data centre entries or bibliographic records.
- Store a readme.txt file alongside the data which provides basic explanatory details.
- Record relevant context in lab notebooks or associated papers and reports.
- Link to websites or web pages which explain the context of the research.
Make sure there are strong links between your data and the associated documentation.
If you want to share your data, use descriptive standards such as the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) or the Data Documentation Initiative (DDI). These are used by archives and data centres so their collections can interact with each other.
We have prepared some general guidance on how to keep a paper-based laboratory (lab) notebook.
If you have paper notebooks that you need to store in accordance with data management requirements, we can help you to explore procedures and costs – email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We did some exploration of requirements for electronic research notebook tools. Read the report here University of Glasgow Research Notebooks Case Study (2020).
Here is a paper about Electronic Research Notebooks written by one of our academics Do you call that a lab notebook?
We also have the University Research Notebooks blog, which is an open space for information sharing.
OneNote can be used with Microsoft Teams and other tools such as Zoom to facilitate collaboration. Work is on-going to support researchers with this tool. We have drafted OneNote Research Notebook guidelines.
We have purchased a small number of licences for RSpace. If you are interested in this product, please contact email@example.com
You can use the RSpace Community version for free, although you should avoid using Internet Explorer and Edge browsers. This does not integrate with the broader research structure at Glasgow nor have the other features of the Enterprise version but may work well for a specific researcher or group.
Some resources for learning RSpace are:
- A 1-hour introductory walkthrough
- A 5-minute introductory video
- A quick introduction to RSpace
- A guide to the features of RSpace
- A 90-minute recorded training session from a US university that provides a deeper dive into RSpace’s features.
- RSpace’s Youtube channel
- RSpace’s Help Documentation
Researchers working with music, or engaged in composition, may find Com-Note useful. This tool was developed by the University of Surrey. For more details, see information on Com-Note from the Digital World Research Centre.