Data Retention and Preservation

In many cases research data should be retained for a significant period.

The best time to think about how to store and preserve your data is at the start of the research project. If you evaluate your data retention needs from the start as part of your data management planning, you won’t have to invest time or money to adjust your data management later on. The Research Data and Primary Materials Policy sets out the University's requirements around retention of research data.

That policy indicates that planning, management and preservation are responsibilities of the Data Steward (the Chief Investigator on any research project, unless that person nominates another party). The Data Steward Competency Framework provides guidance on fulfilling those responsibilities, including preservation, and highlights where you can get help.

The University's Information Management Policy lays out compliance obligations related to record keeping and data management. The Records and Archives Management Handbook is the University's online repository of records management procedures, guidance and information.

  • Data retention

    The required retention period for research data can be as long as five, seven, or fifteen years. In some cases permanent retention is required.

    Consider any specific legal or ethics requirements for the archiving and retention of your data and associated documentation.

    Select where the digital and non-digital data and documentation will be archived, in accordance with the University's Information Management Policy.

  • Non-digital data

    Non-digital research data formats include:

    • paper (files, cards, notebooks, maps and plans)
    • photographs
    • film
    • magnetic media (computer disks and tapes, video and audio tapes)
    • optical media (including DVD's)
    • artworks on paper.

    These formats are at risk of data loss and degradation, so care must be taken for long term retention.

    If possible, transfer your physical data into a durable digital format. Even once your data is digitised, you will need permission from the University to destroy the physical data.

    Find more information on the University Archives and Recordkeeping website.

  • Data disposal

    Before you destroy any data, make sure you have complied with the minimum retention period. No data can be destroyed without approval from the University Archivist.

    The destruction of data needs to be non-reversible. This is particularly relevant for sensitive data.

    Records should be kept indicating which data has been destroyed and when.

  • Keeping data long-term or permanently

    Ensure the file formats of your data are durable.

    You will need consent from all participants to store the data long-term. It is best to obtain the permission before collecting the data.

    It is best to follow good file naming and versioning practice from the start. If your data is still difficult to understand for an outsider, include a document explaining the dataset, naming conventions etc. Find more information about file naming and versioning in the University of Wisconsin's File Naming and Versioning guide.

    Research data needs to be stored permanently if:

    • it is from projects of major national or international significance, interest or controversy
    • the principal investigator has widely acknowledged influence on the area of scholarship
    • the data is crucial to the substantiation of the research findings and cannot be readily or practically duplicated.
  • More information