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Data best practices and case studies

How to use best practices for managing your research data, along with case studies and examples to help you use these techniques.

Name your versions

Versioning refers to saving new copies of your files when you make changes so that you can go back and retrieve specific versions of your files later.

When creating new versions of your files, record what changes are being made to the files and give the new files a unique name. Follow the general advice on the site for naming files, but also consider the following:

  • Include a version number, e.g "v1," "v2," or "v2.1".
  • Include information about the status of the file, e.g. "draft" or "final," as long as you don't end up with confusing names like "final2" or "final_revised".
  • Include information about what changes were made, e.g. "cropped" or "normalized".

Simple file versioning

One simple way to version files is to manually save new versions when you make significant changes. This works well if:

  • You don't need to keep a lot of different versions.
  • Only one person is working on the files.
  • The files are always accessed from one location.

The directory below shows multiple versions of a web page mock-up called DMSSiteHome.jpg. Note the use of v1, v2, etc. to indicate versions. The notations "FISH" and "SandC" indicate different images that were swapped into some versions, i.e. major changes that were made.

file versions screenshot, image by Amy Hodge

Saving multiple versions makes it possible to decide at a later time that you prefer an earlier version. You can then immediately revert back to that version instead of having to retrace your steps to recreate it.

This method of versioning requires that you remember to save new versions when it is appropriate. This method can become confusing when collaborating on a document with multiple people.

Software options

Google Drive

Google Drive logo

Google Drive's word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software automatically create versions as you edit.

  • Any time you edit files created on Google Drive, new versions are saved as you go. 
  • Version information includes who was editing the file and the date and time the new version was created.
  • You can also see what changes were made from one version to the next (or between the current version and any older version) and revert back to a previous version at any time.

Pros: The real-time editing feature means that Google Drive works well for collaborating on files with multiple people. And because the files are on Google Drive, they are accessible from anywhere.

Cons: You are restricted to the software provided by Google, which may not have all the bells and whistles of your desktop word processing, spreadsheet, or presentation software. In addition, Google does something called "version pruning." As the document ages, fewer of the older versions are saved, making it harder to return to a specific state. Intentionally saving significant versions can help to alleviate this problem.

More: Find out more about using Google Drive for Stanford.

 

git logo

If you have more sophisticated version control needs, you might consider a distributed version control system like git. Files are kept in a repository. Users clone copies of the repository for editing and commit changes back to the repository when they are done. 

Version control systems like git are frequently used for groups writing software and code, but can be used for any kind of files or projects. Many people share their git repositories on GitHub.