Creating an informal data plan is fairly straightforward and it doesn't take long. With a plan in place, you can handle--or avoid--many problems that may arise. Most importantly, it will pay-off enormously in the long run. Below, we have provided a suggested framework.
#1 - IDENTIFY YOUR DATA NEEDS
What research question are you asking and what data will be most important for exploring and answering that question? Identify ideal data as well as other data that might be useful if the ideal is not available. Create a basic description of the data you will be collecting. Understanding and identifying your data will help you figure out later steps, such as how to collect, store, and protect your data.
#2 - COLLECT DATA
How will you obtain your data? Will you collect it yourself? If so, what methodology (surveys, experiments, instruments, online, in-person, etc.) will you use? Has your data already been collected? How will you find it? Are there any barriers to getting your data, such as fees? Answering these questions before you start will help you be prepared.
#3 - DOCUMENT YOUR DATA
Set up a plan for documenting your data before you obtain it. You will want to note such things as how, when, where you obtained your data. This will assist you in later stages of the research process: collection methodology, version control, collection frequency, data description, etc. The TIER protocol is an example of an effective way to keep your data well-documented, especially for larger research projects.
#4 - ORGANIZE DATA
How will you organize your data once you start collecting it? Create a plan for file/folder structure, naming conventions, data tables, etc. The TIER protocol also may be used to help organize your data.
#5 - STORAGE & BACKUP
As you work with your data, where will you store it and how will you back it up in order to prevent data loss? A good thing to know is the 'LOCKSS' maxim: “Lots of copies keeps stuff safe.” But also think about how you will keep various copies updated while still properly documenting version control.
#6 - ACCESS FOR COLLABORATORS DURING RESEARCH PROJECT
If you are working with collaborators, or need to share with your professor or others in your class, you will need a plan for coordinating data access and sharing. Creating a plan ahead of time will allow you to keep track of multiple copies of data files and avoid data corruption.
#7 - PRESERVE & SHARE
Plan to preserve your data long-term, whether for your own use or to share with others. It is important to think about where to store or preserve your data, the file format in which you want to preserve it, and whether or not you want to restrict future use.