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Data Management for the Humanities

Study-Level Documentation

Study-level documentation provides an overview of: the research context and design, data collection methods, data preparation and results or findings. It is key to enabling the secondary user to make informed use of the data.

Good study-level data documentation includes information on:

  • the context of data collection: project history, aims, objectives and hypotheses
  • data collection methods: data collection protocols, sampling design, instruments used, hardware and software used, data scale and resolution, temporal coverage and geographic coverage, and digitization or transcription methods
  • structure of data files, number of cases, records, variables and relationships between files
  • data sources used and provenance of materials, e.g. for transcribed or derived data
  • data validation, checking, proofing, cleaning and other quality assurance procedures carried out, such as checking for equipment and transcription errors, calibration procedures, data capture resolution and repetitions, or editing, proofing or quality control of materials
  • modifications made to data over time since their original creation and identification of different versions of datasets
  • for time series or longitudinal surveys, changes made to methodology, variable content, question text, variable labeling, measurements or sampling
  • information on data confidentiality, access and use conditions, where applicable

Data documentation can be provided by data depositors in the form of final reports (e.g. ESRC End of Award Report), technical reports, working papers, laboratory books or publications. Important data documentation would be questionnaire copies, interviewer instructions, interview topic guides or experimental protocols.

Adapted from UK Data Archive


Example of online study-level documentation for a data collection in a Data Catalog, including project instructions, questionnaires, technical reports and a user guide.

UK Data Archive Data Processing Document

This Processing Data Document from the UK Data Archive is full of information on data documentation and standards. This document is large, and may take a few moments to load. Away from this guide, the document can be accessed here.