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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Introduction to Data Management for Undergraduate Students: Data Management Overview

This guide covers the basics and best practices for data management for individuals who are new to the research and data-collecting process.

What is Data Management?

Data management is a way to organize and maintain your information through:

Creating naming standards, for consistency and easier location.
Carefully recording all the details, including decisions made during the project.
Saving copies of your data in more than one place to prevent loss.
Making plans to store your data after project completion.


Glossary of Data Management Terms

Cornell University's Research Data Management Service Group created a glossary of helpful data management terms. For more specific glossary terms that are organized by field, refer to the bottom of their page.

Why Do Data Management?

This YouTube video is one in a series produced by the University of Wisconsin Data Services and presented by Kristin Briney. Kristin goes over the top five reasons why everyone should practice data management.

Data Sharing Snafu Animation

This short story is a prime example of what can go wrong if data is not managed correctly. Enjoy!

Data Management Overview

The core intention of data management is to assist people with the administrative side of data, which allows for more time to focus on the research or task itself. The great thing about data management is that it benefits everyone – from college students organizing their computer files to experienced researchers working with terabytes of data! Wherever you are in the research process, data management is an important part of conducting research.


Here are some ways that you can apply data management skills in your own life:

  • Save your files in formats that everyone can access, no matter if they have access to certain software or not. Examples of open access files are plain text files (.txt), PNG files (.png), and CSV files (.csv). Proprietary formats are the opposite of open access and include file formats such as Word (.doc or .docx) and Excel (.xlsx) documents.

  • Keep your computer organized by creating and sticking to a file naming convention. This increases the chance of finding the correct file when you need it.

  • Document your research process, decisions, and changes. This allows you to have a reference for questions and keep track of what still needs to be done. This helps your future self remember what you did. If you do not write it down, you will forget it!

  • Write down your database and search entries (queries). This way you know what search terms get you the best results.

  • Use a reference manager for citations.

  • Back up your data regularly, on multiple places and more than one media type.