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  1. Research integrity
  2. Research data management
  3. Create and organise data

Create and organise data

Documenting and organising your data could be an overwhelming process; especially if there is more than one researcher involved in the project. Here are some useful tips.


Data format is a crucial aspect of the research cycle as digital data can become obsolete if not preserved in a standard format. Some proprietary formats (e.g. SPSS and Microsoft Excel) are widely used and likely to be accessible for a reasonably long, but still limited time.
The UK Data Archive provides a table of file formats that they recommend.

Organising files

File structure

The key to ensuring best practice of organising files is structuring your folders in a logical way so they are easily locatable and accessible. You can view examples of file structures in the UK Data Service website.

File names

A file’s name is the principal identifier for a file. Selecting a meaningful name can save time, and help with long-time preservation of data. You should choose a file naming convention early on to ensure that there is consistency throughout your research; and that is understandable by all parties involved in the project.

In addition, the UK Data Service recommends the following as factors of good practice:

  • create meaningful but brief names
  • use file names to classify types of files
  • avoid using spaces, dots and special characters (& or ? or !)
  • use hyphens (-) or underscores (_) to separate elements in a file name
  • avoid very long file names
  • reserve the 3-letter file extension for application-specific codes of file format (e.g. .por, .csv., .odf, .tiff)
  • include versioning within file names where appropriate

Examples of useful file names

  • FG1_CONS_2010-02-12.rtf : interview transcript of the first focus group with consumers, that took place on 12 February 2010
  • Int024_AP_2008-06-05.doc : interview with participant 024, interviewed by Anne Parsons on 5 June 2008
  • BDHSurveyProcedures_00_04.pdf : version 4 of the survey procedures for the British Dental Health Survey


It is important to ensure that you can distinguish between different versions of your folders/documents; especially, if they are saved in different locations and controlled by multiple users.

Things to think about:

  • How many versions of the same folder/document do you want to keep?
  • Do you want to save versions that have major or minor amendments?
  • Are you going to save the master (i.e. final copy) and milestone (i.e. working copy) versions in the same location? If yes, how are you going to separate the two?
  • Do all users have access to the folder’s/document’s location?


  • Create a version control table table to keep track of your folder’s/document’s changes
  • Use total numbers for major changes, for example v01, v02, v03
  • Use decimal numbers for minor changes, for example v01_01, v01_02, v01_03

Documentation and metadata

Why is documentating data important?

  • It explains how data were created, collected and digitised
  • It ensures that data are understood during the life of the research, but also when they have to be reinterpreted by other researchers.

What is metadata?

Metadata is data about your data that helps others understand your data. Metadata gives answers to the questions of why, what, when, where, how and by whom the data was collected, so it’s not just understandable but also effectively reusable by other researchers.

Non-digital data (paper files/hardcopies)

Not all research data can be digitised (i.e. interview tapes, sensors, laboratory notebooks)  so measures should be taken to ensure that:

  • they are digitised when possible (i.e. by scanning or taking digital photos) and stored in an institutional shared drive that is accessible to all parties involved.
  • stored properly and safely when digitisation is not possible. More information will be provided at the Preserve & store section.

Confidentiality and personal data


Personal Data is information that ‘relates to an identifiable living individual, as well as information which, when combined with other data accessible to the researchers, would permit the individual’s identification’. (JISC)

All Personal Data must be processed in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and from 25th May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). For more, information about the changes, please visit the Information Commissioner’s Office GDPR website and for City staff the Information Governance/GDPR Awareness pages includes a section for researchers.

If you have any queries please email

Sensitive Personal Data relates to the subject’s:

  • ‘Racial or ethnic origin
  • Political opinions
  • Religious beliefs or other beliefs of a similar nature
  • Membership of a trade union
  • Physical or mental health or condition
  • Sexual life
  • Commission or alleged commission of any offence
  • Involvement in criminal proceedings for any offence or alleged offence committed by them, including outcomes such as judgement and sentencing.’ (JISC)

It should be noted that there are specific conditions when processing sensitive personal data.

*There are legal and ethical obligations when you conduct research with human participants. For more information please visit City’s webpage on How to apply for ethical approval.


Personal and sensitive personal data fall within the remit of the Data Protection Act 1998. However, anonymised data do not fall within such remit as it is impossible to identify participants. Having said that, it is important to acknowledge that many methods produce pseudonymised data rather than truly anonymous data and from 25th May 2018 pseudonymised data may fall within the remit of the GDPR; careful consideration should be taken on the methods used to anonymise data.

More information on how you can effectively anonymise data can be found on the JISC website, Information Commissioner's Office website and via the UK Anonymisation Network (UKAN) website and UKAN’s Anonymisation Decision-Making Framework.

A key principle of data protection is ‘data minimisation’. If data is not collected, the risk of its future misuse is automatically reduced. You should consider for example, whether satisfactory research outcomes can be achieved without collection of personal data or with only minimal collection of personal data. This might mean that your research does not require a subject’s date of birth, just their age range, or just the first part of their postcode rather than their full address (Data Protection and Research Data, JISC).

Sharing personal data

In some instances restrictions of data is mandatory. However, this does not mean that the data cannot be shared. The most common way of sharing sensitive personal data is by putting in place strict procedures that users have to follow before they access such data. Please contact your School’s Contract Manager for advice.

More information on making data accessible can be found in the Publish and share section.

Where can I store my active data?

Office 365 OneDrive

OneDrive is a file-hosting service that is available to all City staff and students as part of their Office 365 Email Service and it can store 1 terabyte of data. You can access it in the following way:

  • log into your City webmail.
  • select the menu button on the left-hand side of your screen
  • double-click on the OneDrive Icon

If you are working on a project with external collaborators, you can share your document through OneDrive. Multiple users can access (and work) on the same document simultaneously. You can share it in the following way:

  • log into your City webmail.
  • select the menu button on the left-hand side of your screen
  • double-click on the OneDrive Icon
  • select - Files - on the left hand side menu
  • select document by clicking the white circle that appears before the file name
  • select – Get Link
  • select – Anyone with this link can edit this item
  • adjust –Permissions- according to your needs (e.g. you might want to make the link available only to specific people)
  • select – OK
  • select – Get a link
  • select – Copy
  • share link with participants

Who is responsible for the records whilst they are active?

Responsibility for the accuracy, completeness and security of research evidence during a project should lie with the principal investigator. Extra care should be taken to ensure the security of research material containing personal data, which is subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998, GDPR and in due course provisions of the Data Protection Bill.