Research data management

Choosing formats

There are many file formats for holding data and these can differ from discipline to discipline. The guide below will help you to choose what format best suits the data you are creating, taking into account factors such as compatibility and longevity.

What file format should I use for my data?

It is important that you consider which file formats you will use to store your data when planning your research. To some extent this will be dictated by established disciplines within your field and the software you are using. However in some cases you may have to choose between several options.

Digital data is, by its own nature, software dependent and thus at risk of obsolescence as technology advances. Many software packages allow backward compatability but in order to guarantee long-term data access it is best to convert to a standard format that most software packages are capable of interpreting and allow for data interchange and transformation. The UK Data Service have provided a useful list of data types and recommended file formats to help you choose formats.

Is there anything else I should consider when choosing file formats?

Other factors that might impact on what file format you choose include (but are not limited to):

  • considering what software and formats you or colleagues have used previously.
  • what software is compatible with any hardware you currently use
  • whether you have the funding to purchase new software 
  • how you plan to analyse, sort, or store your data.
  • what formats will be easiest to share with colleagues.
  • what formats will be easiest to annotate with Metadata so that you and others can interpret them in the immediate future and long-term.

In some cases, it might be easier to use one format for data collection and analysis and convert your data to another, more widely accepted, format for archiving once your project is complete.