The format and software in which research data are created usually depend on how researchers choose to collect and analyze data, often determined by discipline-specific standards and customs.
All digital information is designed to be interpreted by computer programs to make it understandable and is - by nature - software dependent. All digital data are thus endangered by the obsolescence of the hardware and software environment on which access to data depends.
Despite the backward compatibility of many software packages to import data created in previous software versions and the interoperability between competing popular software programs, the safest option to guarantee long-term data access and usable data is to convert data to standard formats that most software are capable of interpreting, and that are suitable for data interchange and transformation.
This typically means using open or standard formats - such as OpenDocument Format (ODF), ASCII, tab-delimited format, comma-separated values, XML - as opposed to proprietary ones. Some proprietary formats, such as MS Rich Text Format, MS Excel, SPSS, are widely used and likely to be accessible for a reasonable, but not unlimited, time.
Thus, whilst researchers use the most suitable data formats and software according to planned analyses, once data analysis is completed and data are prepared for storing, researchers should consider converting their research data to standard, interchangeable and longer-lasting formats, to avoid being unable to use the data in the future.
Adapted from the UK Data Archive