Documentation makes data clear to understand and easy to use

A crucial part of ensuring that research data can be used, shared and reused is taking care that those data are accessible, understandable and usable.

Original researchers wishing to return to their data later, or new users wanting to use data, need sufficient contextual and explanatory information to make sense of those data. This requires clear and detailed data description and annotation. Besides the information that is needed for the reuse of data, data also need to be accompanied by information for citing and discovering the data. Researchers wishing to document their data can view our comprehensive guide to data documentation.

For data users, detailed documentation is crucial in order to conduct correct research. To understand data and its suitability for your research you must understand:

  • What information was collected​?
  • Who was the data collected from?
  • When and where​ was the data collected?
  • Have there been any changes to the raw data before it was archived?

All of this information should be able to be found in the study documentation. Documentation varies from study to study, but typically contains: ​

  • user guides​
  • questionnaires ​
  • interview schedules​
  • technical reports
  • data dictionaries

Before downloading data, users are advised to consult the available documentation in order to make an informed assessment of whether the data is suitable for their research or not.