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Research Data Management

Best Practices for Back and Storage

It is always advisable to maintain multiple copies of your files to protect against catastrophic data loss (for instance, if your laptop is stolen). A best practice for backing up and storing your data is sometimes called the 3-2-1 Rule. This rule states that you should

  • keep at least 3 copies of all important files
  • store your files on at least two different media types (e.g. a laptop and an external hard drive)
  • store at least 1 copy offsite (e.g. via cloud storage)

In addition to following the 3-2-1 rule, it is recommended to establish a regular frequency with which to backup files. The appropriate frequency will depend on your project and your work style. If you backup you data manually, you will need to weigh the benefits of frequent backups against the work involved in creating them. You will also need to ensure that your files are backed up after any major changes are made that would be difficult or time consuming to replicate. 

File Formats

In addition to properly backing up your files, it is important to think carefully about what file formats to use for storing your data. The formats you choose to use will have implications for how easy it will be to access and reuse your data in the future. Some file formats are more preservable than others, and generally it is preferable to use more preservable formats absent compelling reasons to do otherwise. Typically it is easier to preserve file formats that are:

  • non-proprietary and open 
  • widely used
  • unencrypted
  • uncompressed

Note that there may at times be tension among these factors. For instance, Microsoft Word files (.doc, .docx) are widely used, but are proprietary whereas OpenDocument files (.odt, .fodt) are non-proprietary and open, but not widely used. The chart below lists some open alternatives to common proprietary file formats. For additional information, consult the Library of Congress Recommended Formats Statement

 

Proprietary Format Open Alternative(s)
Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx)

Plain Text (.txt), PDF/A (.pdf)

PowerPoint (.ppt, .pptx) PDF/A (.pdf)
Excel (.xls, .xlsx) Comma Separated Values (.csv)
Photoshop (.psd) TIFF (.tif, .tiff)