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Storing & preserving data

Storing & preserving data

Data storage and preservation are key elements in the research data lifecycle. For this reason it is important to think at the beginning of your research project how and where you are planning to store and preserve the research data you collect.

Deciding early on which data to keep, which to discard and in which file format will also inform your decision on where to store your data and to estimate the costs of preserving it, in the long and short term. Storage and preservation costs should be included in your funding proposal. Planning ahead means that the unique data you have collected will be easily found, accessed and re-used by you and other researchers (if appropriate).

In this guide you will find information about storage, security, long-term preservation, retention and disposal of data as well as information on sensitive and personal data.

Data storage: your options

Nowadays data can be stored in a variety of places: flash drives, laptops and desktops at home and/or clouds. Data storage is no longer limited to your work desktop.

Storing your data on a UCL networked drive (N: drive) will ensure daily backup and minimise risks of loss and security breaches. All students and staff receive 100GB of storage space.

Staff can also store non-personal data on their S: Drive to enable colleagues working on the same project to access the data.

Use a UCL repository
Cloud services (not recommended)
Portable devices
Hard copy records
NHS data

Information Security

As mentioned in previous sections, keeping your research data secure is very important. There is a number of methods that you can use, from the most common such as changing your passwords regularly and creating strong passwords for your devices, to more sophisticated ones such as using specialist software for encryption of flash-drives or laptops. 

Passwords on individual documents, and saving data to hard drives (i.e. stand alone computers or laptops), are not recommended.

Information security is not limited to protecting existing files, it also includes data erasure. Deleting files is not enough as tools are available to retrieve deleted data. You need to make sure that the data you want to discard, especially in cases of sensitive data, is completely wiped from hard-drives or portable drives. See secure disposal guidelines in the ISD's Information Security Knowledgebase.

Long-term preservation and ‘archiving’

You should think about what will happen to the data after the end of your project, where it will be stored, for how long, and how to make it accessible in the long term. You will also, of course, need to decide what will be made available, from raw data to final outputs. All of this may be determined, wholly or in part, by your funder or research council.

Formats & obsolescence
Options for long-term storage

Sensitive and personal information

Ethical and legal issues should always be considered when storing and preserving your research data. You will need to anticipate questions such as:

  • should I encrypt my data?
  • who will be able to access my sensitive data?
  • do I have the right to store and preserve my data and for how long?

You can find further information in our guide dedicated to handling sensitive & Personal Information.

Retention and disposal of all records and data (whether electronic or not)

The UCL Retention Schedule prescribes how long records and data should be held. Section 2 deals specifically with research records, including clinical trials.

Hard copy records
Clinical trial records
Confidential waste, CDs & DVDs

Your funders may have their own policy regarding the preservation of data that were collected as part of a project that they funded. Check our list of links to funders’ policies. Your funders’ policies generally take precedence over UCL’s policies.