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Collection and description of research data

Before you collect data, it is important to plan how to name and organise your files, how to describe your data (which metadata to collect), and which file formats are the appropriate ones to use.

Also, consider whether you need any permits, for example from the Swedish Chemicals Agency or the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. You may also need a permit if you are studying endangered species, taking samples in protected areas, using laboratory animals, or conducting studies that involve human subjects.

If you undertake contract research or a research collaboration with  an external party, it is important that all agreements are in place before you start to collect data.

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File formats

If possible, ensure that you save your files in a preservation file format that is open, widely used and vendor-independent. It makes the process easier if you plan for and use the correct format when you create the information, as it can be difficult to convert to preservation file formats later when you need to share or archive your data.

It is not always possible to use a file format that meets these criteria. For example, some disciplines have standards or traditions that determine the choice of format. Certain types of scientific equipment, analytical tools or self-written software may also determine the file format. When planning to reuse or share your research data, it is useful to include information in the form of metadata about how your data can be read (for example which software to use) and to include any self-written software necessary with your data.

The Swedish National Data Service (SND)  has compiled a list of accepted and recommended file formats.

Guide to file formats on the Swedish National Data Service (SND) website

Organising data

Organise your research data using a carefully considered folder and file structure. Name your files and folders systematically  using a structure that is intuitive or well-described. Names should provide cues to the time, place, content and other relevant information. It is also a good idea to think about a simple way to keep track of different versions of your files, for example by recording the editing date in the file name or by using version control.

Guide to folder structure, file names, and versioning on the Swedish National Data Service (SND) website


It is important to describe your data in a structured way and provide all necessary metadata (data about data). Since it is difficult to generate metadata retrospectively for large quantities of data, make sure this is something you do this right from the start.

Metadata falls into three groups:

  • Descriptive metadata
  • Structural metadata
  • Administrative metadata

Descriptive metadata enables others to search for your data, and includes the title, author, summary (abstract), geographical area, and DOI (Digital Object Identifier).

Structural metadata enables others to use your data, and may consist of information on the number of variables, number of research subjects, file structure, and internal file structure.

Administrative metadata provides information on how data may be used, for example if there is a licence or embargo, technical information (the programs needed to open the files), and file formats and versions.

It is important to distinguish between metadata and documentation. Documentation in the form of articles and reports can only be read by people. Metadata must be machine-readable, which places specific demands on the structure, format, and standardised vocabulary. Certain metadata is at the project level and can be stored in a README file or similar, while other metadata must be in or accompany individual files.

Data made available in databases should be organised and described according to current standards. Which standards to use will often be regulated by the repository or database.

Guide to data organisation on the King’s College London website

Search and find metadata standards by discipline on the Digital Curation Centre (DCC) website

Collection of personal data

When the data you collect include personal data there are special regulations to follow, in particular ethical guidelines and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It is therefore important that you find out what applies in your case before you start collecting data.

All research projects that involve personal data processing must be registered with Lund University, because LU is required by law to maintain a register of all processing of personal data at the University. If Lund University fails to do so it may be fined. Research projects should be registered in PULU (Personal Data Lund University).

Log into Personal Data Lund University (PULU)

In research projects where data is collected directly from the participants, it is generally the case that the participants must give their consent. Where data collection may affect subjects physically or if sensitive personal data is involved, the research must be subject to an ethical review by an ethical review board before the research begins.

Guidelines on the registration of personal data processing for research on the Staff Pages

Ethical reviews

Will your research involve human subjects, biological material taken from a human being, or the processing of sensitive personal data? If so, you may need to apply for an ethical review. As of 2004, it is forbidden to embark on certain types of research without approval from an independent ethical review board.

Guidelines on research ethics and animal testing ethics on the Staff Pages

Animal experiments

Will your research involve the use of laboratory animals? If so, you must obtain in advance the necessary permits and approvals to perform animal experiments.

Guidelines on research ethics and animal testing ethics on the Staff Pages

Contract research and research collaborations

If you undertake contract research or a research collaboration with an external party there must be an agreement in place to regulate, for example, the right to results, confidentiality, and publication. The research contract will also regulate which organisation is responsible for the long-term storage of research data and other research documents when the project is completed.

Each individual researcher, doctoral student, student, or other participant in the contract research or research collaboration must also approve the agreement by signing a separate agreement on terms before the agreement for the contract research or research collaboration is signed.

Guidelines on agreements on the Staff Pages


Kurt Mattsson
kurt [dot] mattsson [at] science [dot] lu [dot] se
Phone: +46 79 063 08 23

Thomas Tengelin Nyström
thomas [dot] tengelin_nystrom [at] science [dot] lu [dot] se (thomas[dot]tengelin_nystrom[at]science[dot]lu[dot]se)
Phone: +46 72 08 49 804