What is research data and why should I share it?

What is research data?

Research data is defined as data collected, measured or created as a foundation in analyses and validation of research results. The data can consist of both analogue and digital information, as well as lab reports and software. The line between what is research data and what is not can sometimes be difficult to draw, for instance when data is published as part of a database that also includes analysis and results. However, in general, research data is considered as information that requires processing in order to achieve originality.

Why should I share it?

Scientific organizations all over the world are promoting a principle of  open science and the sharing of research data and materials. At the heart of it, is the FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management. Journals and publishers also increasingly require data that underpin publications to be shared or deposited within an accessible database or repository for analysis by readers. Sharing data have many advantages. 

Benefits of sharing your research data:

  • increasing the impact and visibility of research
  • likely to increase citation rates
  • sharing makes locating research data for reuse in subsequent projects and in wider research easier, and it enables others to corroborate findings
  • maximising transparency and accountability
  • it can lead to new possibilities for cooperation between research groups
  • the improvement and validation of research methods
  • reducing the cost of duplicating data collection
  • increasing the impact and visibility of research
  • it can function as a backup in case your own storage becomes inaccessible
  • promoting innovation and potential new data uses
  • maximising return on investment for research funders and researchers

When not to share

There are some legitimate reasons for wanting to restrict public access to your research data:

  • you intend to make a patent application, and must avoid prior disclosure.
  • your research data includes data contains personal details or other sensitive information.
  • The data is copyrighted by another party.

Often, sensitive and confidential data can be shared ethically if informed consent for data sharing has been given, or by anonymising research data.

A third option: share but not immediately

A common solution is to share data via an archive that allows it to be embargoed for a fixed period of time after deposit. This usually means that a metadata record for the data will be available (allowing it to be cited in related publications), but the data itself will not be made publicly accessible until the embargo has expired.

Picture by user jannekestaaks on Flickr

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