Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Data Management and Record Keeping

Tools, tips and checklists for creating a data management plan and managing data you generate

Questions to Ask about Record Keeping

How would you answer these questions based on your research circumstances?

•How will the data be collected?
•How should records be kept and stored?
•How, if at all, will data be backed up?
•How long should data be kept?
•Who owns the data?
•When and with whom should data be shared?

Bad Record Keeping & Retractions

Retraction Watch  is a blog that documents the multitude of research papers withdrawn from scientific journals. Retraction Watch was started by The Center for Scientific Integrity, a non-profit group, funded by such organizations as the MacArthur Foundation, says its mission is to, “promote transparency and integrity in science and scientific publishing, and to disseminate best practices and increase efficiency in science.
Check the Retraction Watch website to see the latest in retractions from scientific papers, and the resulting fallout.


Record Keeping
"Maintaining a permanent record of the details (including the data) of an individual’s day-to-day research work in the laboratory or office."

Source: Laboratory Record Keeping Procedures

All researchers have an interest in, and responsibility to, protect the integrity of the research record.

Why do we care? 
-To reconstruct/reproduce what was done (validation)
-To assign credit to researchers
-To prepare reports, papers, etc.
-To teach others how to analyze results, develop new tests, identify errors
-To meet contractual requirements
-To avoid fraud or carelessness (both of which could call the research into question)
-To defend patent claims  (US patent law follows first-to-conceive not first-to-file system)

Principles of Record Keeping

A laboratory notebook is a record of both the physical and mental activity of research. The principles of good record keeping include:

  • Records may be kept in bound or unbound notebooks, electronic files or other formats – or a combination.
  • Although styles and forms of record keeping may vary, some common principles apply.  Records should be: legible, clear, timely, thorough, accurate, complete, secure, backed-up, and well-organized.
  • Align with policies & Data Management Plan of the lab and your Principal Investigator.
  • Be aware of any funding agency or institutional requirements you need to follow.

Source: Guideline for Scientific Record Keeping in the Intramural Research Program at the NIH

Best Practices for Record Keeping

Best practices for record keeping in your lab notebook should include:

  • Who did it (the person making the record)

  • What you did: experiment descriptions, data outputs; analysis

  • Why you did it: process explanations

  • How you did it: protocols, calculations, equipment (including instrument information: type, serial number), materials used, time taken, etc.

  • When you did it: chronological layout

  • Where materials are

  • What happened (& what did not): results/findings

  • Your interpretations

  • Contributions of others & what’s next/next steps

Data should be recorded in ways that cannot be altered. Records also should be protected from destruction (ranging from fading caused by sunlight or flooding to computer crashes).

Source: Guideline for Scientific Record Keeping in the Intramural Research Program at the NIH