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Data Management

A guide to dealing with research data throughout the data lifecycle.

Finding Data

man catching data with a butterfly netWhen looking for data to use in your research, you can look in the many data repositories that are available online. These repositories will specify how you can access and use the data found. Some are discipline-specific, while others are more general. See below for a selected list of repositories.


Image by Marina Noordegraaf; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Ethical Data Use

In addition to properly citing data in order to give someone credit for his or her work, there are other things to consider to make sure you are using data ethically:

  • sensitive/confidential data: some data may be too sensitive to be shared openly, whether it is about human subjects or the location of an endangered species or archaeological site. This data must be kept secure. See the policies of the NIH, ICPSR, and the Institutional Review Board for more guidance. If you do plan on sharing sensitive data, it is necessary to de-identify it. Johns Hopkins has compiled a list of tools that will you do that.
  • misrepresenting data: in order to ethically use data, you must make sure that you are not misrepresenting it in any way. Do not cherry pick data in order to help prove your claims. 

Citing Data

You must cite any data sets you use, just like you'd cite a journal article or book. There is not one set way to cite data, but there are guidelines you can follow.  Be sure to note whether or not data are accessible from your source when citing, and if so, indicate where the data can be located (this will help you increase the transparency and reproducibility of your analysis!).

Follow a specific citation style (MLA, APA, etc):

  • Quick Guide to Data Citation - This guide from the International Association for Social Science Information Services & Technology. Note that it is not updated with MLA 8.
  • How to Cite Data - an excellent guide from Michigan State University. Note that it uses MLA 7, not 8.
  • How to Cite Datasets - guidelines from the Digital Curation Centre

Follow recommendations from the repository the data came from:

An in-depth look at data citation can be found here.

Note that many data repositories have recommended citation formats in the dataset record. If you need further assistance, you can always ask a librarian.