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Data Management Guide

An overview for researchers on how to collect, manage, organize, and preserve data at all stages of the research process.


In order to promote public access to research data, many funding agencies require that data, as well as articles, be published. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) were the first to require data sharing policies and data management plans, respectively. In 2013, the White House Office for Science and Technology Policy released a memo, "Expanding Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research," which mandated all grant-funding federal agencies (spending >$100 million per year on research) have policy requirements for public access to articles and data. This affects more than 25 agencies and departments.

In addition to creating new public access policies, most of these agencies have established repositories where researchers can place their research products in order to comply. More information on individual agency policies and resources is available in this section.

What you need to do to comply with public access mandates

  1. Review the agency's policies while applying for grant funds, and take note: If you publish in a scholarly journal that embargoes articles, how long an embargo will the funder allow? 
  2. Confirm your publishing agreement with the journal will let you comply with the public access policy. (If the stock agreement is too restrictive, addend the agreement.)
  3. Do NOT sign any agreement that prohibits you from complying with your funder's public access policy. 
  4. Retain a copy of your final, peer-reviewed manuscript, after changes but before formatting (called a post-print). 

What about data? 

  1. Data that supports tables and figures in your publications must be publicly accessible. Check with the funder for data deposit requirements. You may need to place your data in a specific repository, or just provide a citation.

Portions of this overview were adopted from the VCU Research Data Management Guide by Margaret Henderson.

Further Reading

Examination of Federal Data Management Plan Guidelines by Jennifer L. Thoegersen. Journal of eScience Librarianship 4(1): e1072. 

De-Mystifying the Data Management Requirements of Research Funders by Dianne Dietrich, Trisha Adamus, Alison Miner, and Gail Steinhart. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship. Summer 2012. 

National Institutes of Health

In 2003, the National Institutes of Health instituted its Final Statement on Sharing Research Data, stating, "Data should be made as widely and freely available as possible." This policy required all grant applications more than $500k/year to include a plan for data sharing, or explain why data sharing is not possible. 

The NIH Public Access Policy, implemented in 2009, created PubMed Central, a new public repository in the National Library of Medicine. All NIH researchers are required to submit an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscript to PubMed Central within 12 months of its official publication date (as permissible by copyright law). 

The Public Access Policy portal can help you prepare a manuscript, submit it to PubMed Central, and report compliance to NIH. It also maintains a list of peer-reviewed journals that automatically deposit the final published version of NIH-funded articles into PubMed Central within the required 12-month period without author involvement, and instructions on how to report papers that should be excepted from the Public Access Policy. 

For more information about individual journals and their compliance with NIH policies, visit the OAD Publisher policies on NIH-funded authors page, or the SHERPA/RoMEO database of publishers.

Copyright Guidance

Since NIH-funded authors are required to submit their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts to PubMed Central, it is essential that the authors work with the journal to ensure the publishing agreement allows the author to do so. Below are the NIH's recommended points to consider while reviewing publishing contracts: 

  • Which submission method will be used?
  • What version of the paper will be made available on PMC?
  • Who will submit the paper?
  • When will it be submitted? 
  • Who will approve the submission?
  • When will the paper be made public on PMC?

For more information on negotiating copyright agreements, visit the copyright guide

National Science Foundation

In 2011, the National Science Foundation (NSF) instituted its Data Management Plan Requirements, which require researchers to include a 2-page statement explaining how they will comply with the policy on Dissemination and Sharing of Research Results, which requires researchers to share their data. What constitutes such data, and which avenues are acceptable for data sharing, are "determined by the community of interest through the process of peer review and program management."  Common practices and standards in a particular field or discipline are usually acceptable to the NSF. This gives researchers flexibility in finding a permanent home for their data, and allows them to comply with institutional policies, publishing agreements, and applicable laws.

More information on how to write a data management plan that matches NSF requirements is available under the data management plan tab

Directorate Requirements

The NSF Data Management Plan Requirements state that "proposals submitted or due on or after January 18, 2011, must include a supplementary document of no more than two pages labeled 'Data Management Plan.' This supplementary document should describe how the proposal will conform to NSF policy on the dissemination and sharing of research results. 

Within the NSF, specific Directorates provide their own guidance on preparing DMPs. They are: 

National Endowment for the Humanities

Beginning in 2011, the NEH Office for Digital Humanities (ODH) requires grant applicants to include a two-page data management plan, modeled on the NSF data management plan requirements. The NEH does not prescribe particular tools, platforms, or repositories for data management. 

The NEH also makes DMPs from successful grant applications available to the public to assist scholars in writing their own plans.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

In response to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy memorandum "Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research," released in February 2013, NASA created a public access policy. It has two requirements for researchers: 

  • A data management plan must be included as part of grant proposals
  • Peer-reviewed journal articles, conference papers, and associated data must be deposited in NASA PubSpace

NASA announced in 2016 that it plans to use PubMed Central (managed by the NIH) to permanently preserve and provide easy public access to peer-reviewed papers resulting from NASA-funded research. Beginning with research funded in 2016, all NASA-funded authors and co-authors are required to deposit copies of their peer-reviewed scientific publications and associated data (excluding patents, personal privacy data, export control, proprietary restrictions, and other applicable regulations). 

PubSpace is a new addition to NASA's existing Data Portal, a publicly available catalog of datasets, APIs, and visualizations from around the web.