Research data consists of any material in any format gathered
in the course of your research. It is not the output of your
research, rather it is the raw material which informs the
output and thought process of your research. It is essential
evidence of your conclusions. Some researchers have commented
that the term ‘research data’ is not a particularly helpful one
to describe research material in the humanities, but as it is a
term used to encompass all types of research we will continue
to use it in this course.
data can be a digitised image like
print by Antonio Vanegas
del mundo es ya cierto todos serán calaveras;
todos los vivientes, ahora sí fue de deveras’,
Vanegas Arroyo (Firm). Library of Congress
and Photographs Collection, LC-USZ62-84269.
We can, however, break research data for our purposes in into
Research created by a
- This includes all material gathered by you in the
course of your research, in any format type: audio, text,
visuals, photos and designs, structured data etc.
Importantly this also includes any data held in your PC,
correspondence about your data, blogs about the project.
Data created by others
and reused by you
- You may use and collect research which was gathered by
others in the course of their research. This will have
implications regarding copyright and it is important to get
this right at the point of data gathering so that you are
clear about how much you can use and share this data.
Research data is now almost all created in digital
This can be as structured data in the form of databases or
spreadsheets, text files such as Word and open Office, or audio
and visual material. It also includes structured information on
your PC. Research data can really consist of anything which
informs your body of work. Each historian will have different
research, different projects and different research aims, and
so the research they build will be different for each project.
Hitherto, during the non-digital age, research data was usually
written on index cards or paper, either handwritten or typed.
Nowadays most research data is digital.
Digital research data has provided researchers with powerful
methods of interrogation as well as use and reuse potential
which outstrips how analogue research data could be
investigated. Coupled with this ‘power’, however, is the
incredible vulnerability of the digital, for the many reasons
that we will consider later on in the module. It is important
to realise the value of your research data and to recognise
that it is everything developed in the course of your research
including the material kept on your PC. Yes, structured
information on your PC is research data.
In order for your data to be accessible to you, your
colleagues, and other researchers, it must be properly
documented. It doesn’t really matter how you record the
information about your data, just make sure it is consistent,
and kept in close association with the data. Documentation
about your data is essential also, anything surrounding
procedures, methodologies and contextual information about the
research project should be kept.
A visualisation of what you need to keep in order to ensure
the preservation of your research data over time.
At the heart of our diagram is our research data, in any shape.
Next we need to keep the information about the data (metadata)
which helps us find what we need in our data, e.g. descriptions
of the data. We also need to keep documentation about the data
which will help us understand the data more in terms of context
and general technical information. Last but not least all
research data should have an accompanying synopsis, not about
the output but about the data itself. We will expand on all
this in these courses and provide solutions.