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Research Data Management (RDM): Quick Tips


This Quick Tips page is adapted from Christine Malinowski, MIT Libraries.

1. Back up your data

Recommended practice is backing your data in three different locations (Here + Near + Far = 3 copies). This practice will enable to recover your data in the event of data loss. Especially, "Far" is needed in case of natural disaster or fire. 

  • Here: desktop or laptop computer.
  • Near: MCW H: drive or Research Computing Center (RCC) for data that need computing analysis. 
  • Far: third party remote site in "cloud". MCW has OneDrive. More information on OneDrive, please click here

2. Use consistent file names & organization

File Naming


  • Limit the file name to 32 characters or less and descriptive.
  • Do not use a space, hyphens and dashes, periods (except before file extension) and other special characters (&,% # ;* ! @ $ ^ ~ ' [ ] { } ? < >).
  • Use underscores ( _ ) or camelCase, known as medial capitals. 
  • Use date format: YYYYMMDD.
  • Use leading zeros to allow for multi-digit versions for sequential numbering (01-10, 001-010-100).    

File Structure

  • Determine important contextual information, for example, a project name.
  • Avoid overlapping categories.
  • Don't let your folder get too big.
  • Don't let your structure get to get too deep.

3. Take good notes for your data

What needs to be included in a readme file for data?

  • Where to find it?
  • How to access it?
  • What can it be used for?
  • Known problems, inconsistencies, limitations
  • Fixity checks
  • Ethical/privacy restrictions
  • Licensing
  • Who to cite?

Readmes - best practices

  • Create 1 readme file for each data file/dataset.
  • Name the readme so that it's easily associated with the data file(s) it describes.
  • Write your readme document as a plain text file.
  • Format multiple readme files identically (Tip: create & use a template).
  • Follow the conventions for your discipline.

Cornell Library resource:

4. Implement data security

Why is data protection important?

  • Personally Identifiable Information
  • Protected populations
  • Controlled Unclassified Information
  • Data Use Agreements
  • Human subjects
  • Proprietary data
  • Patents

Security options

  • Passwords & password managers (Lastpass, 1Password, etc.)
  • Don't share your password with anyone including your boss and your colleagues. 
  • Encryption
  • Air gap
  • Don't email the important things!                                                                                  

MCW resources

5. Consider the file formats

File formats - In the best case, your data files are both:

  • Non-proprietary (also known as open), and
  • Unencrypted and uncompressed

Converting file formats

  • Be aware of information loss.
  • Document the conversion steps you take.
  • If possible, keep the original file as well as the converted ones.

Not sure about a file format?

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