What’s a Data Management Plan, and why do I need one?

By Samantha McClellan, Social Sciences Teaching and Faculty Outreach Librarian

As a researcher, you might notice that you’re seeing “data management plans” as a part of your grant requirements. Effective for proposals submitted on or after January 18, 2011, investigators are expected to share their data produced under an NSF (National Science Foundation) grant. These plans are increasingly becoming a part of other granting agencies’ requirements, including the NEH and NIH. Tools like the DMP Tool are being created to assist you in creating your data management plan.

Data management is an essential part of the research life cycle—this can mean the difference between getting a grant, preserving your data for the long-term, and the overall success of your research.

Science life cycle

Source: Humphrey, Charles. “e-Science and the Life Cycle of Research” (2006) http://datalib.library.ualberta.ca/~humphrey/lifecycle-science060308.doc
Description: The Research Life Cycle. If conducting original research, all sections from “Study Concept & Design” to “Analysis” should be considered when managing data and writing a data management plan.

The Components of a Data Management Plan

Typical data management plans consist of the following:

–          A description of the project

–          A description of the data that will be produced

–          How the data will be managed throughout

–          Documentation about the data

–          Plans for short-term data storage, backup, and security

–          Legal and ethical issues

–          Plans for access, sharing, and reuse of data

–          Plans for data retention and disposal arrangements

–          Plans for preservation and archiving

Why Manage your Data

Regardless of whether your funding agency requires a data management plan, following standard guidelines for managing your data can assist you in numerous ways:

  • Save time: planning how you’ll manage your data will save you time throughout the research process.
    • e.g. Standardize your file formats across the project and use sustainable file formats. Long-term access can become an issue as certain software become obsolete.
  • Simplify: when you let a repository house (and potentially share) your data, they also get the housekeeping duties of managing the data.
    • e.g. Rather than answering questions and requests for your data, repositories will do that for you.
  • Preserve: by depositing your data in a repository, you’re ensuring that the data will be available to you and other researchers long-term.
    • Data repositories exist to store, preserve, and provide access to your data.
  • Research efficiency: when you document your data throughout the lifecycle, you are making it easier for you and others to find and understand your data in the future.
    • e.g. Use directory and file naming conventions to avoid confusion amongst multiple researchers.
  • Meet funder requirements: if this is standard practice for you, you’re already on your way to a solid data management plan! Many funders now require formal data management plans and/or that data produced under their grants be made publicly available.
  • Facilitate new discoveries: sharing data reinforces scientific inquiry, which can lead to new discoveries. This also helps in avoiding duplication of data by allowing multiple researchers to utilize the same data set.
    • The open access movement exists to share and facilitate new knowledge.1

Consider the library a partner in the data management process. Librarians are interested in data management because we are interested in the short- and long-term preservation of raw data that can be used to create new and interesting ways to understand things. If you have any questions about managing your data or creating a data management plan, please refer to the UofL Libraries Data Management research guide or contact the Social Sciences Teaching & Faculty Outreach Librarian at samantha.mcclellan@louisville.edu.


1 Crummett, C., Graham, A., McNeill, K., Sheehan, D., & Stout, A. (2013). MIT Libraries Data Management and Publishing. Retrieved from http://libraries.mit.edu/guides/subjects/data-management/

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