One of the essential components of successful research data management is to establish a filing (or directory) structure for your records.
Researchers are advised to structure their folders (whether paper or electronic in form) to correspond to how the records were generated, to complement proposed or existing workflows.
Filing structures enable research processes to be more transparent, make it easier for investigators to determine where files should be saved, and ultimately make retrieval and archiving more efficient.
Established file plans demonstrate consistency and continuity in recordkeeping.
Before you even start collecting or working with data, you should decide how you will structure and name files and folders. This will allow for standardized data collecting and analysis by many team members.
One of the most common ways to group records is by function.
Because all records generated by the Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health must be retained for certain lengths of time (both to meet University recordkeeping requirements and satisfy grant-mandated retention periods), maintaining records functionally will enable retention periods to be assigned to groups of records.
Here are some tips:
Organize your data hierarchically, and identify ways to divide your data into categories (or attributes):
Within folders, files can be maintained chronologically, by classification or code, or alphabetically (depending on the types of files)
Folder and subfolder names should reflect the content of the folder, not the names of researchers or staff
Document your file directory structure and describe the kinds of records that should be maintained in those folders to ensure compliance
Include basic information, such as project titles, dates, and some type of unique identifier (such as a grant number)