Love Your Data Week: Help your future self — write it down!
February 10, 2016

Knowing how to manage, share, and protect your research data is crucial to your academic and professional success.

Follow us during Love Your Data Week, Feb. 8-12. We will guide you through five activities to help get your data organized, secure, and ready for write-up, sharing and reuse.


Document, document, document! You probably won’t remember that weird thing that happened yesterday unless you write it down. Your documentation provides crucial context for your data. So whatever your preferred method of record keeping is, today is the day to make it a little bit better! Some general strategies that work for any format:

  • Be clear, concise, and consistent.
  • Write legibly.
  • Number pages.
  • Date everything, use a standard format (ex: YYYYMMDD).
  • Try to organize information in a logical and consistent way.
  • Define your assumptions, parameters, codes, abbreviations, etc.
  • If documentation is scattered across more than one place or file (e.g., protocols & lab notebook), remind yourself of the file names and where those files are located.
  • Review it regularly and keep it current.
  • Keep it for at least 7 years after the project is completed.

  • Writing illegibly.
  • Using abbreviations or codes that aren’t defined.
  • Using abbreviations or codes inconsistently.
  • Forgetting to jot down what was unusual or what went wrong. This is usually the most important type of information when it comes to analysis and write up!

    Take a few minutes to think about how you document your data. What’s missing? Where are the gaps?
    If your documentation could be better, try out some of these strategies and tools.

  • Readme files are a simple and low-tech way to start documenting your data better. Check out the sample readme.txt (filename = readme_template.txt) from IU.
  • Cornell University RDMSG also has a guide with tips for using readme files
  • Check out Kristin Briney’s post on taking better notes
  • Cornell University RDMSG has some tips for writing metadata
  • Learn more at: