Disclaimer: I use the word data in this post to include everything needed to complete a project including (but not limited to) documents, pictures, screenshots, experiments, databases, recordings, images, projects, etc.
In my last post, I discussed best practices for backing-up your files and which back-up source to use when on the go. Today I have a few more pieces of advice to share with you when thinking about your data management plan.
Horror Story #3: At the end of the semester, I was hard at work putting the finishing touches on a term paper. I had multiple versions of the paper—some had proofreading comments from friends while others . . . yeah, I don’t know why I renamed this paper so many times. At some point, though, I got confused as to which file was the most recent one and began adding to an older version. By the time I realized this, it was a mess to sort out.
Solution: Come up with a file naming system that is easy to remember and easy to use and use it consistently. No exceptions. This will make it easier for you (and collaborators if you have them) to identify your files. Ashley has a few suggestions that you might use to help you name and identify your files.
• Class name or project name
• Experiment or instrument type
• Site location
• File type (eg. data, graph, photo, musical example)
• Date (use YYYY-MM-DD so that you can sort more easily)
• Version number
So, in my case, I could have named my files something like: 2016-04-03_MUS523_VaughanWilliams_draft (date_course number_paper topic_file type) and just changed the date as I make substantial updates. If I have edits from friends or my adviser, I can tack their initials on at the end.
Write down your file naming scheme and hang it up next to your desk or work station so that you can keep track!
Horror Story #4: A few weeks ago, a scholar in my field reached out to me with questions about some of the resources I used for my dissertation. To be honest, I hadn’t looked at those files since I graduated in 2017. I plugged in my external hard drive and opened the folder with my dissertation data (which included thousands of photos). I spent a few minutes just staring at the screen. Evidentially I used a file-naming and data organizing convention that made sense to me at the time, but now I couldn’t remember it.
Solution: Developing a file-naming convention (like I mentioned earlier) should help with this. But it’s also a good idea to have a separate file that gives additional information about the files and resources you have. Think about the data you have for each project and set-up a file (this can be in Word, Excel, Notepad, or a Readme) and consider including some of the following information:
• Data/file types
• Methods and Processing
• Finding Sources
• Where you collected the data from
• Date you collected the data
• Any abbreviations or codes you used to organize your data
• Anything you want to remind yourself of about the project
Creating this file will help jog your memory as you work on your projects or revisit them later. Remember, each project is different, so you may not need to include all of the information above, or there may be other things that you would like to add to keep track of.
Need more help with data management?
• Check out the resources on the Research Data Service website, attend one of their workshops, or make an individual appointment.
• If you are organizing your data as part of a grant or fellowship, check the institution’s website for guidelines on curating your data.
• Meet with your adviser or research group to discuss best practices for organizing, storing, and naming your files.
Read (or re-read) PART I: How To Keep Track of Your Stuff or Four Horror Stories in Two Parts
Comic A Story Told In File Names: from "Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham phdcomics.com / About PHD Comics
Emily Wuchner is the Associate Director for Student Experience at the Graduate College. She holds a PhD in musicology from the University of Illinois, and her work focuses on music and social welfare in eighteenth-century Austria. In her free time, she enjoys boxing, reading, and knitting and crochet.