5 Steps to Mastering Your Data Management Plan

5 min read

If you're reading this, chances are you're either a researcher, a librarian, or someone tasked with writing a data management plan (DMP) for your organization. Don't worry; you're not alone! Many people struggle with writing DMPs, but fear not – I'm here to help.

First, what exactly is a data management plan (DMP)? Simply put, a DMP is a document that outlines how you will collect, use, and share data throughout the research process. It's essentially a roadmap for managing your data and helps ensure that it is well-organized, properly documented, and easily accessible to others.

Why is a data management plan important?

Having a well-crafted DMP is important for several reasons. It helps you stay organized and on track with your research. By outlining how you will collect, use, and share data, you can avoid potential problems and ensure that you're making the most of your data.

A DMP is also important for ensuring that your data is usable and accessible to others. By providing clear documentation and metadata (data about your data), you can make it easier for others to understand and reuse your data. This is especially important if you're working on a collaborative research project, as it ensures everyone is on the same page and working with the same data.

Finally, many funding agencies and organizations now require that researchers have a DMP before providing funding. This is because they want to ensure that the data generated by their funded projects are properly managed and made available to the public.

So, now that you know why a DMP is important. Let's dive into how to write one.

Step 1: Identify your data.

The first step in writing a DMP is identifying the data types you'll be working with. This includes the raw data you collect (such as survey responses or experimental results) and any derived data (such as statistical analyses or visualizations).

It's important to be as specific as possible when identifying your data, as this will help you better understand what you have and how you'll need to manage it. For example, instead of simply listing "survey data," you might specify that you have "200 responses to a 20-question survey distributed online."

Step 2: Determine how you'll collect and generate your data.

Once you've identified your data, you'll need to think about how you'll collect and generate it. This includes things like: 

  • The research methods you'll use (e.g., surveys, experiments, observations)
  • The equipment you'll use (e.g., cameras, sensors, software)
  • The participants or sources of your data (e.g., human subjects, online sources)

It's important to be as detailed as possible when describing your data collection and generation processes, as this will help you identify any potential problems or challenges you might encounter.

Step 3: Decide on a storage and backup plan.

Now that you know what data you'll be working with and how you'll collect it, it's time to think about how you'll store and back it up. This is an important step, as you want to ensure your data is safe and secure throughout the research process.

There are a few different options for storing and backing up your data, including:

  • Local storage: This could be as simple as storing your data on your personal computer or an external hard drive. While this is an easy option, it's important to remember that local storage is not always the most secure or reliable. If your computer crashes or your hard drive fails, you could lose all your data.
  • Cloud storage: Cloud storage involves storing your data on a remote server, accessed from any device with an internet connection. This is a more secure option, as your data is stored offsite and is less likely to be lost or damaged. However, it's important to carefully research and select a reputable cloud storage provider, as you'll be entrusting them with your valuable data.
  • Multiple copies: Regardless of which storage option you choose, it's always a good idea to have multiple copies of your data. This could mean creating copies on different storage devices (such as a local hard drive and a cloud storage account), or sending copies to colleagues or collaborators for safekeeping.

Step 4: Develop a documentation plan

In addition to storing and backing up your data, it's important to document it thoroughly. This includes creating detailed descriptions of your data (called metadata) and keeping track of any changes or updates you make to your data.

Having thorough documentation is important for a few reasons. First, it helps you and others understand and interpret your data. By providing detailed metadata and documentation, you can make it easier for others to understand what your data represents and how it was collected.

Second, documentation helps ensure the integrity and reliability of your data. By keeping track of any changes or updates you make to your data, you can ensure that your data is accurate and up-to-date.

Step 5: Determine a data-sharing plan

Finally, you'll need to think about how you'll share your data with others. This includes deciding on a data-sharing platform (such as a data repository or your website) and any access or usage restrictions you want to place on your data.

It's important to be thoughtful about your data-sharing plan, as it can greatly impact how your data is used and cited. For example, if you make your data openly available, it's more likely to be reused and cited by others. However, if you place strict access or usage restrictions on your data, it may be less likely to be shared and used by others.

Wrapping up

Writing a data management plan might seem daunting, but it's important to ensure that your data is well-managed and easily accessible to others. Following the steps outlined above, you can create a clear and comprehensive plan to help you stay organized and on track with your research.

Remember, a DMP is a living document, so review and update it regularly as your research progresses. And if you ever get stuck or have questions, don't be afraid to seek help from a librarian or research data specialist. They're there to help you succeed!

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