Put simply, it is the management of any data you use or generate during the research process. The University of Edinburgh, a pioneer in research data management, describes it as “good practice in planning, collecting, storing, using, sharing and preserving the data generated in any research project.”
Data management is an integral part of the research process. The good thing is: you are probably already doing it, though you may not have formalized your processes. However, the benefits are legion when you formalize and document your processes, and follow disciplinary best practices.
A data management plan (DMP) is a formal document which describes how data gathered or generated from a research project will be treated, during the period when the project is active, as well as upon completion of the project. It will generally address issues of data description and format, data storage, security, data preservation, copyright and licensing, and legal and ethical constraints on data sharing.
Many research funders, including the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and Institute of Museum and Library Services now mandate funding recipients to have DMPs.
A DMP is a living document. As your research project evolves, so too should your DMP.
There is no universally agreed-upon definition of research data. Definitions vary depending on the institution. Some institutions define research data in a narrow sense, to refer only to scientific research data. This reflects a historical background: the strongest pushes for research data management over the last few decades has came from fields such as astronomy, genomics, and the health sciences.
However, research data is produced in all disciplines. Thus research data management is an integral part of research projects across the board.
The University of Sydney, for example, defines research data broadly:
Research data may be numerical, textual, audio-visual, digital or physical, depending on the discipline and the nature of the research. (p. 4)
Research data may be in many forms. This list is not exhaustive, but it should provide an idea of the possibilities.
“Research data includes all records necessary for the reconstruction and evaluation of reported results of research and the events and processes leading to those results, regardless of form or media.”
“Research data, unlike other types of information, is collected, observed, or created, for purposes of analysis to produce original research results.”
“Research data is defined as recorded factual material commonly retained by and accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings.”