Text: Kaisa Järvelä

Ten Pointers for Good Data Management

Good data management makes a researcher’s work easier and guarantees the usability of data for future researchers.


The term data management may be unfamiliar to some. However, in practice it simply refers to well-planned and sensibly executed data collection, processing, documentation, and preservation.

The goal of data management is to ensure that good scientific practice is observed and that the data are not compromised at any point in the research. Furthermore, competent data management makes it easier to archive and share the data.

FSD-Bulletin listed the top ten ways for keeping your data under control.

1. Make a data management plan

A suitable tool for creating a data management plan is DMPTuuli. You can use Tuuli even if you are not currently seeking funding for your research. In this case, the plan can be longer than the two pages reserved for it in funding applications. When it is time to look for funding, the complete data management plan can be shortened for the purpose.

It is a good idea to think of the data management plan as a living document that’s modified as the research progresses.

2. Familiarize yourself with FSD’s Data Management Guidelines

The Data Management Guidelines maintained by the Finnish Social Science Data Archive provide good, concrete advice for different stages of data management and making a data management plan.

3. Obtain consent early enough

Obtaining consent from research subjects can be hard or impossible after the research is complete. This is why it is important to obtain consent early enough during the research project.

If you want to deposit data containing personal information for further research use, you must obtain consent beforehand as well.

4. Check whether an ethical review is required

Ethical review is required by law for all medical research.

Ethical review is necessary in human sciences when the study involves an intervention in the physical integrity of subjects, when the study deviates from the principle of informed consent, the study may cause long term mental harm beyond the risks encountered in normal life, the study can pose a security risk to subjects, or when the study exposes research subjects to exceptionally strong stimuli and evaluating possible harm requires special expertise.

Ethical review is also required when the subjects are children under the age of 15 and the study is not part of the normal activities of a school or an institution of early childhood education and care, and the data are collected without parental consent and without providing the parents or guardians the opportunity to prevent the child from taking part in the study.

The review is based on the research plan, and it must be done before the start of the research.

5.Consider the future of the data

It is important to consider the future of the data during the planning part of the research.

Can the data be archived, or is there a reason for destroying them? Should the data be archived completely, or only in part? For what purposes can the archived data be used? Should there be terms or conditions, such as a period of embargo, for the reuse of the data?

If you are looking for someone to fund your research, it is necessary to take the funder’s demands into account. The funder may, for example, demand that the data be opened for use by other researchers. Demands such as these must be taken into account during data management planning.

6. Take care of agreements between researchers

It is important to take agreements between researchers into account when there are multiple researchers involved in a project.

Agree on clear roles, responsibilities, and tasks for each member of the research project. It is important to decide who has the right to make a deposit agreement. If you want the data to be available for reuse by permission only, agree on who decides on granting the permissions.

7. Check whether the data contain copyrighted material

Material protected by copyright can include newspaper clips, literature, videos, or works of art, but it can also consist of material collected from the research participants, such as textual material.

If you wish to archive copyrighted material, you must obtain permission from the owner of the copyright. Furthermore, public presentation of copyrighted material without permission is forbidden. However, this does not include presentations, such as seminars, regarding your own research.

8. Make sure that the research participants are adequately informed

Adequate informing of the participants is especially important when personal data is processed during the research. Informing the research participants is an obligation set out in the Personal Data Act, and must be taken seriously.

The aim is to inform the participants about what they are agreeing on if they decide to participate in the research. What is the research all about? Why are certain questions being asked? What information is gathered and how? The format of informing may vary, and it can be either written or oral.

If you are planning to archive your research data, the research participants must be informed on where the data will be archived, in what form it is going to be deposited for archiving, for what purposes the data containing personal identifiers can be used, who controls the reuse of the data, and what the terms and conditions for the use of the data are.

9. Think thoroughly about anonymization

Personal data should not be collected needlessly. However, if personal data is collected, unnecessary personal identifiers must be removed from the data whenever possible. When collecting data that will contain personal data, filling in the Description of the scientific research data file is required.

It is a good idea to create a specific anonymization plan. The plan can detail what kind of information must be removed from the data so that the confidentiality of the participants is not endangered, while still keeping the data intelligible.

Special care must be taken when processing and storing data containing personal identifiers. For example, personal data must never be stored in cloud services!

All personal data must be completely destroyed when they are no longer needed and there is no legal basis for storing them.

10. Take care to not lose the data

Creating backups of the data is important already during the research. You should regularly create copies of your data during the study. After the study is completed, this becomes even more important if the data stays with the researcher.

The most reliable way to store your data is archiving. The Academy of Finland recommends that you store your data in repositories such as the FSD, The Language Bank of Finland, or services of the Open Science and Research project.

Source: Katja Fält’s presentation on data management in the Kesytä Aineistokaaos – seminar on 9.11.2016.

» More information: FSD Data Management Guidelines.

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