All researchers have to keep accurate, up-to-date records of what they do. Experimental or statistical data forms the core of many research projects.
All universities expect researchers to adhere to good practice in how they obtain, record and store their data. Universities often have their own formal policies or Codes of Practice on data management. Many now subscribe to the UK Research Integrity Office’s Code of Practice for Research and will expect members of research staff to adhere to its recommendations. Your line manager will also have requirements for how you should manage your data and how he or she can get access to it.
The following are some basic tips for good practice:
- make sure that experimental data is recorded at the time the experiment is done. Don’t write it down retrospectively
- keep a record of all procedures used and results obtained
- do not record data on scrap paper, ‘blue roll’ or backs of envelopes, where it can easily be lost or thrown away by accident
- make sure that data recorded on computer is appropriately backed up
- make sure that procedures, results and data can always be accessed by those who might need the information
- remember that experimental data is intellectual property and needs to be appropriately protected. Do not disseminate data to third parties without clear authorisation from your line manager or head of project
- if you collect personal information as part of your project, it will be covered by the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998. This Act places strict limitations on what can be done with the data and who can get access to it. Make sure that you are familiar with these requirements.
The following are some examples of bad practice. They are likely to result in disciplinary action, and may be criminal offences:
- taking away the only copy of a lab book or other primary record, and not returning it
- falsifying results in a lab book or other primary record
- not obtaining consent before collecting personal information
- disclosing confidential data to third parties.
Many universities now encourage research groups to make their data more widely available to the academic community through the use of digital repositories. As yet there is no common standard for digital repositories. Make sure you are familiar with your university’s digital repository rules BEFORE you upload anything.