Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Love Your Data Week, Day 3: Help Your Future Self

By Help Your Future Self, we mean Write It Down: document, document, document! Your documentation provides crucial context for your data. So whatever your preferred method of record keeping is, today is the day to make it a little bit better! Some general strategies that work for any format:

  • Be clear, concise, and consistent.
  • Write legibly.
  • Number pages.
  • Date everything, use a standard format (ex: YYYYMMDD).
  • Try to organize information in a logical and consistent way.
  • Define your assumptions, parameters, codes, abbreviations, etc.
  • If documentation is scattered across more than one place or file (e.g., protocols & lab notebook), remind yourself of the file names and where those files are located.
  • Review your notes regularly and keep them current.
  • Keep all of your notes for at least 7 years after the project is completed.
Things to avoid:

  • Writing illegibly.
  • Using abbreviations or codes that aren’t defined.
  • Using abbreviations or codes inconsistently.
  • Forgetting to jot down what was unusual or what went wrong. This is usually the most important type of information when it comes to analysis and write up!
Today's Activity: If your documentation could be better, try out some of these strategies and tools:


Take a few minutes to think about how you document your data. What’s missing? Where are the gaps? Can you set up some processes to make this part of the work easier?

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