Defining Research Data

One definition of research data is: "the recorded factual material commonly accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings." (OMB Circular 110).

Research data covers a broad range of types of information (see examples below), and digital data can be structured and stored in a variety of file formats.

Note that properly managing data (and records) does not necessarily equate to sharing or publishing that data.

Examples of Research Data

Some examples of research data:

  • Documents (text, Word), spreadsheets
  • Laboratory notebooks, field notebooks, diaries
  • Questionnaires, transcripts, codebooks
  • Audiotapes, videotapes
  • Photographs, films
  • Protein or genetic sequences
  • Spectra
  • Test responses
  • Slides, artifacts, specimens, samples
  • Collection of digital objects acquired and generated during the process of research
  • Database contents (video, audio, text, images)
  • Models, algorithms, scripts
  • Contents of an application (input, output, logfiles for analysis software, simulation software, schemas)
  • Methodologies and workflows
  • Standard operating procedures and protocols

Exclusions from Sharing

In addition to the other records to manage (below), some kinds of data may not be sharable due to the nature of the records themselves, or to ethical and privacy concerns. As defined by the OMB, this refers to:

  • preliminary analyses,
  • drafts of scientific papers,
  • plans for future research,
  • peer reviews, or
  • communications with colleagues

Research data also do not include:

  • 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
  • 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.

Some types of data, particularly software, may require special license to share.  In those cases, contact the Office of Technology Transfer to review considerations for software generated in your research.

Other Records to Manage

Although they might not be addressed in an NSF data management plan, the following research records may also be important to manage during and beyond the life of a project.

  • Correspondence (electronic mail and paper-based correspondence)
  • Project files
  • Grant applications
  • Ethics applications
  • Technical reports
  • Research reports
  • Signed consent forms


Adapted from Defining Research Data by the University of Oregon Libraries.