MANTRA – Jeff Haywood – Importance of good file management in research


I certainly have, over the years,
learned some more discipline about… …saving files… with intelligible names in intelligible
places, because although… everybody always says I’ll remember,
actually in truth you never do. And so as a consequence I have actually
had to go back and listen to and… open and peer into files to see what was in
them, because the name and the labelling… and the location were cryptic after the event. I’ve mostly worked in small team settings,… and so therefore sharing data between the
team members has been normal, so… I haven’t had that problem of having data just
for me and then suddenly wanting to share it. And so I have had to have some degree
of discipline around… labelling the data so that they were
intelligible to other people,… for instance SPSS files having meaningful
labels on them so that when… you gave them to other people they could make
sense of them, because it actually… feels much more laborious to go back and
label something after the event… than it does to do it at the time.
And so there is a discipline you… need to teach yourself I think to do it
at the time, because if you don’t you regret it later if you have to go back. So, I think that to some degree the extent
to which people gather data… and store data in sensible ways is a
reflection of how they keep all the… other data that’s in their lives, and it is
quite interesting that sometimes when… you get a look into people’s filing
systems electronically or see… the desktops on their machines you,
realise it’s a rather amorphous… plethora of objects and things which are
not structured and that some people… have them highly structured. I think I’ve been
fortunate that I’ve always had a bit of… a folder compartmentalisation mentality,
and that’s actually made it easier to… keep things and be able to
find them later. I think that without that… you do find that over a period of
time you gather so much data that… finding where the things are that you wanted… and trying to understand… where and how you gathered them
at that time becomes a problem. And so, I think when that becomes a problem
you become resistant perhaps to sharing,… because you know they are not labelled
well, and certainly to putting into… open access position locations where other people
could get them without any help from you. I think the way you are funded by
research councils for instance… like ESRC and you have to put it into
their repository and you have to… label it up in a proper way… is a really useful discipline
to make you get it right. But I think that even for postgraduate
students with their own data… that they are going to use in their PhD etc.
it’s like handling references… with Endnote or bibliographic
reference management tools… that it’s a good discipline to get into at
a really early stage, because once it… becomes a habit it doesn’t seem
so much of a chore. When people come back and ask you years later
if you’d like to label data, that’s a chore.

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