Prior to sharing your research data it is important to ensure that it is in a format that is accessible and interpretable to other researchers and the public. The largest hurdle in this process is that the research data exists in file types that are outdated or not accessible in default software on different computer platforms because it was generated in a specific program. By converting this data to open as opposed to proprietary extensions research data can not only be accessed on a variety of different platforms, but its usefulness is preserved long-term. The UK Data Archive has a list of optimal data formats for long-term preservation.
If you are unable to directly convert your file type to some sort of open file type, consider transferring your data into a more easily interpretable format, such as to an excel file (.xls) and then convert that to an ASCII file format.
If you are still unable to adjust the file format to improve your data’s accessibility, it is imperative that the associated metadata details the processing and results extensively.
What does it mean to format my data?
Data files are often formatted to ensure that their research data remains accessible following the project. For a file to be accessible this means that it can be viewed or modified in different operating systems and programs both short- and long-term. By adjusting the data file type to open extensions (.odt, .csv) as opposed to proprietary extensions (.doc, .xls) it remains accessible to a wider audience for a far greater period of time.
What file formats improve the accessibility of my data?
Saving your data files with open extensions as opposed to proprietary greatly improves the accessibility of your data. A list of these extensions can be found on page 12 of this document.
I can't seem to save my data in an open file format?
Certain programs will only allow you to save your data in certain proprietary file formats. Often these proprietary files can be converted to open files using an online file converter or open-source software to an open file type listed here. If your file type cannot be directly converted, consider whether your data can be better shared/interpreted as any of the open file types.