Skip to Main Content

Managing Your Research Data: Document & describe

Documentation ensures your data can be discovered and understood by others, as well as by your future self. It is important to document how data was created, derived, or processed, and for what purposes; and also to describe what data mean, their content and structure, and any manipulations that have taken place.



Version control (or version management) refers to handling multiple revisions to files, documents, or data sets, in order to track changes and distinguish one version from another.

Consider keeping master files and milestone versions, and developing an identification system for working copies of files created for specific purposes or people.


Develop a file naming system with brief but meaningful names, and use it consistently. Also consider how to structure multiple files into named folders.

Use durable, standard file formats which are easier to convert, transfer, and preserve. If possible, have data in open, widely available formats that don't require proprietary software to interpret. (NB: If your data will be deposited in an archive, specific file formats might be required.)


Metadata facilitates the searching, retrieving, and analysis of data - it is data that describes other data (so, information about your data).

Metadata is typically a structured, machine-readable set of descriptive elements as defined by a particular schema or standard that will be determined according to your discipline. Elements may include data's origin, purpose, geographic location, creator, access conditions, and terms of use.


It is important to remove private information that might allow individuals, organisations, or sensitive locations to be identified. The resources below provide information and guidance on de-identification and management of sensitive data:

If you are collecting survey data, REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture) is a secure web-based survey application recommended if your survey:

  • has a complex design
  • will include personal information which is either covered by Health Information Privacy Principles, The Privacy Act or Ethics Committee specifications that require a secure survey tool

REDCap is available for use by University staff and students. All survey data is stored securely in the University of Otago data centres. For more information, refer to the ITS REDCap information page.