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Managing Research Data for Public Access: 1. Before Research Begins

Before Research Begins

Good data management occurs throughout the research workflow: before, during and after your research project. Before the research begins:

  • Step 1. Create a data management plan.
  • Step 2. Identify the data to be managed.

Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Create a Data Management Plan

A data management plan is a written plan of how digital data will be handled during and after a project. A data management plan for a U.S. DOT-funded research project provides a two- to three-page narrative in five sections:

  1. Data Description
  2. Standards Used
  3. Access Policy
  4. Reuse, Redistribution and Derivative Products Policies
  5. Archiving and Preservation Plans

See Data Management Plans for more information.

Source: National Transportation Library.

Step 2: Identify the Data to be Managed

The first step of data management is an easy one: make a data inventory. Your data inventory should cover:

  • What the data describes and what type it is.
  • How the data is collected, generated, etc.
  • How much of it there will be (volume estimates).
  • How it will be saved (file formats).
  • What software will be used (file types).

Creating a complete inventory is an important step even though you may only be able to provide a summary in a federal DMP due to length.


What data should the inventory include?

Plan to retain, share and make accessible any data that would help others validate your research findings. You should also consider preserving/sharing data that:

  • Captures a one-time event.
  • Will be costly, difficult or impossible to replicate.
  • Has long-term value.


Examples of research data

 Research data covered by a data management plan could include:

  • Results of laboratory or field experiments, such as 
    • Spreadsheets of experiment/laboratory results.
    • Photos and videos.
  • Geographic data, including GIS/location data.
  • Surveys of individuals, agencies and/or organizations.


Federal requirements

The definition of research data used by U.S. DOT is adapted from OMB Circular A-110:

Research data is defined as the recorded factual material commonly accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings, but not any of the following: preliminary analyses, drafts of scientific papers, plans for future research, peer reviews, or communications with colleagues. This "recorded" material excludes physical objects (e.g., laboratory samples). Research data also do not include:

(A) Trade secrets, commercial information, materials necessary to be held confidential by a researcher until they are published, or similar information which is protected under law; and

(B) Personnel and medical information and similar information the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, such as information that could be used to identify a particular person in a research study.

Sources: Iowa State University Library, Mineta Consortium for Transportation and MobilityNational Transportation Library.

Additional Resources

How to Share Publications and Datasets Under the USDOT Public Data Access Plan, presentation, National Transportation Library, February 2018.

Best Practices for Preparing Science Data to Share, U.S. Geological Survey, 2013.  

► Learn more: USGS data management training modules