Deciding what data to keep

Not all research data needs to be kept. It may be impracticable or undesirable to retain all data beyond the end of the project. There may be additional storage costs associated with long-term preservation or contractual or licensing terms that prevent archiving. Deciding which data to keep will differ from project to project but considering these questions can help when making decisions on what data to keep:

  • Does the data underpin published research findings?
  • Is there a funder or Imperial policy requirement to retain the data?
  • Are there any legal or contractual reasons to retain the data?
  • Does the data have potential for re-use in future research?
  • Is the data unique or difficult to replicate?
  • Does the data have scientific or historical value?
  • Do the benefits of preserving the data outweigh the costs?

If your answer to one or more of these questions is yes, you will most likely want to keep the data beyond the end of your project.

How long should you keep data for?

Some funders have data management and sharing policies which specify retention periods for datasets generated from funded projects. Which data need to be retained and for how long varies from funder to funder. See our web page What does my funder require? for brief summaries and links to individual funder data policies.

If there is no funder requirement you should consult Imperial’s retention schedule. Primary research data should be kept for a minimum of 10 years or longer if required by a funder or sponsor and data relating to clinical or public health studies retained for a minimum of 20 years or more.

Wherever possible we recommend depositing your data with a trusted data repository to ensure long-term preservation. See our web page Finding a research data repository for further information.

How to dispose of data?

Files that are not required for long-term preservation should be disposed of securely at the end of the project. Extra care should be taken when disposing of files that contain sensitive or confidential information. For help with disposing of confidential data contact the ICT Service Desk.

Non-digital data

For help with archiving or disposing of non-digital research data contact the College Archives and Corporate Records Unit.

Additional resources: