#LYD16: Write It Down

Help You Future Self —Write It Down!

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Advice on documentation from Data Services.

Good practice

Document, document, document! You probably won’t remember that weird thing that happened yesterday unless you write it down. Your documentation provides crucial context for your data. So whatever your preferred method of record keeping is, today is the day to make it a little bit better!

Some general strategies that work for any format:

Be clear, concise, and consistent.
Write legibly.
Number pages.
Date everything, use a standard format (ex: YYYYMMDD).
Try to organize information in a logical and consistent way.
Define your assumptions, parameters, codes, abbreviations, etc.
If documentation is scattered across more than one place or file (e.g., protocols & lab notebook), remind yourself of the file names and where those files are located.
Review your notes regularly and keep them current.
Keep all of your notes for at least 7 years after the project is completed.

Things to avoid

Writing illegibly.
Using abbreviations or codes that aren’t defined.
Using abbreviations or codes inconsistently.
Forgetting to jot down what was unusual or what went wrong. This is usually the most important type of information when it comes to analysis and write up!

Today’s activity

Take a few minutes to think about how you document your data. What’s missing? Where are the gaps?
If your documentation could be better, try out some of these strategies and tools.

Readme files are a simple and low-tech way to start documenting your data better. Check out the sample readme.txt (filename =readme_template.txt) from IU.
Cornell University RDMSG also has a guide with tips for writing readme files
Check out Kristin Briney’s post on taking better notes
Cornell University RDMSG has some tips for writing metadata
Data dictionaries are an easy way to document spreadsheets


For more information, write to Wendy Mann at wmann@gmu.edu

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