2017 – Tuesday

Documenting, describing, defining

Message of the day

Good documentation tells people they can trust your data by enabling validation, replication, and reuse.

Things to consider

Why does having good documentation matter?

  • It contributes to the quality and usefulness of your research and the data itself – for yourself, colleagues, students, and others.
  • It makes the analysis and write-up stages of your project easier and less stressful.
  • It helps your teammates, colleagues, and students understand and build on your work.
  • It helps to build trust in your research by allowing others to validate your data or methods.
  • It can help you answer questions about your work during pre-publication peer review and after publication.
  • It can make it easier for others to replicate or reuse your data. When they cite the data, you get credit! Include these citations in your CV, funding proposal, or promotion and tenure package.
  • It improves the integrity of the scholarly record by providing a more complete picture of how your research was conducted. This promotes public trust and support of research!
  • Some communities and fields have been talking about documentation for decades and have well-developed standards for documentation (e.g., geospatial data, clinical data, etc.), while others do not (e.g., psychology, education, engineering, etc.). No matter where your research community or field falls in this spectrum, you can start improving your documentation today! 

Stories (learn from others’ mistakes and successes)


Practical Tips by data type & format

General Resources


Option 1: Check out some of the documentation guidelines and standards out there. What can you borrow or learn from them to improve your own documentation?

Option 2: Have a colleague, labmate or teammate review your documentation for a specific project. Ask them to tell you what is missing or unclear. If it’s a long list, choose 2-3 things to focus on improving throughout the semester.

Bonus points: Set up a regular schedule for your lab or team to review and sign off on lab notebook pages, protocols, procedures manuals, data dictionaries, or whatever forms of documentation you use. Afterwards, reward yourselves with a beer, glass of wine, or treats!