Document Your Process | Love Data Week

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You probably won’t remember everything that happened yesterday unless you write it down. Your documentation provides crucial context for your data. Whatever your preferred method of record keeping is, today is the day to make it a little bit better! Some general strategies that work for any format:

  • Be clear, concise, and consistent.
  • Write legibly.
  • Number pages.
  • Date everything, use a standard format (ex: YYYYMMDD).
  • Try to organize information in a logical and consistent way.
  • Define your assumptions, parameters, codes, abbreviations, etc.
  • If documentation is scattered across more than one place or file (e.g. protocols and lab notebook), remind yourself of the file names and where those files are located.
  • Review your notes regularly and keep them current.
  • Keep all of your notes for at least 7 years after the project is completed.
  • Create a Readme file.

Readme files are a simple and low-tech way to start documenting your data better. A readme file provides information about a data file and is intended to help ensure that the data can be correctly interpreted, by yourself at a later date or by others when sharing or publishing data. Check out this sample readme.txt and the Cornell University Research Data Management Service Group has a Guide to Writing “Readme” to learn more.

Things to Avoid

  • Using abbreviations or codes that aren’t defined.
  • Using abbreviations or codes inconsistently.
  • Forgetting to jot down what was unusual or what went wrong. This is usually the most important type of information when it comes to analysis and write up!

Today’s post was written by Marie Kennedy, Serials and Electronic Resources Librarian, and Jessea Young, Digital Initiatives Librarian. Content inspired by Love Data Week. Image adapted with permission: orqwith on flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)