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How do I decide which data to preserve?

Not all the data you have collected will be suitable for archiving. You should decide before submitting your data to an archive which data you wish to preserve for the long-term.

If you work on a collaborative project, the appraisal should be conducted by the whole group led by the PI.

Choosing which data to keep will always involve subjective judgement; no-one can know exactly what will be useful in the future. However, some things to consider are:

1) Are there legal and/or ethical issues with making my data available?


  • Are the data affected by legislation such as Data Protection, Freedom of Information or copyright?

  • Who owns the intellectual property rights (IPR) of the data?

2) Are there any University or research group requirements?


  • Does the University/research group have a retention policy for this type of data?

  • Does your funding body have a data policy that specifies a retention period for the project’s data?

3) Is retaining the data going to be cost-effective?


  • Have you considered the costs of long-term preservation of this data?

  • Do you have the funds available to do this?

4) Has the data been effectively documented?


  • Is there a data dictionary which explains things such as field names and the context of the data?

  • Is there sufficient documentation to allow the data to be found and understood, wherever it is stored?

5) Can the data be re-used?


  • Are human subjects involved and was consent given for archiving or reusing the dataset?

  • Is the dataset in a format that allows others to reuse it without cost or other restrictions?

6) Is the dataset unique?


  • Does it duplicate existing work or is it unique?

  • Do other copies exist elsewhere and if so, will they be preserved?

7) Does the data have scientific or historical value?


  • Is the data vital to your project?

  • Has it been used again in subsequent projects or research?

Data not to be retained

Any sensitive digital research data that is not to be retained should be destroyed and made impossible to recover (for example on external hard drives). There are software applications that can ensure data is completely erased and irrecoverable; contact IT Services who can assist with erasing electronic records.

Destruction of sensitiive physical data and documentation should be properly carried out using paper shredding, specialist CV/DVD shredders, etc. and recycled where possible.

More Information


Research Data team

University of St Andrews Library
North Street
St Andrews
KY16 9TR
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: (01334) 462343