Data backup

Data backup refers to onsite and offsite, automatic and manual processes to guard against the risk of data being lost or corrupted. 

Data backup is an important aspect of data management, that can be overlooked by new researchers. The implications of losing collected data and observations can range from delaying project timelines to discrediting a study’s validity by losing access to crucial and irreplaceable data.

There are a number of risks for stored data that include:

  • Environmental hazards, such as fire or floods
  • Technological hazards, such as file corruption or hard drive failure
  • Human hazards, such as misplacing hard copies of data and theft

Advice for using this method

It’s crucial that researchers take steps to backup and protect their data from risk. 

  • Scan paper documents
    • The speed of this process can be increased by the use of scanners that allow for automatic, multi-page scanning
    • In fieldwork or other situations in which scanners might be unavailable, taking photos of key documents is a low-tech alternative to a document scanner
      • If using a digital camera, think about using a separate memory card from your other photos, and make sure not to store this in the same place as the original documents
      • If using a smartphone’s camera and have access to a data network, upload the photos into Cloud storage. There are also a number of free apps available to help with this form of document ‘scanning​​​
  • Digitalise data that has been recorded or stored using analogue audio-visual formats (such as VHR and cassette tapes)
    • Thinking as well about what quality standards in the digitalisation process are necessary ​
    • Take the time to correctly label these digital copies to make retrieving and using this data at a later date easier:
      • File names should be simple and give important information relevant to your purposes (Key dates, locations, informants etc.).​
  • Store data in different locations
    • Original hard copies of data should be stored in a different physical location from copies of this data
  • Backup digital data regularly
    • Depending on the software you are using, you can program backups to run automatically at regular intervals 
  • Store digital data backups on a different physical device to the original data
    • Portable hard drives are a popular option, as they are easy to connect to different computers and move around.
    • If you or your research team are likely to move data between Windows and Macintosh operating systems, make sure the format of the hard drive is one that will work with both systems, such as Fat32.
    • Store the hard drive in a different physical location to the computer containing the original data. If possible, this should be a different building.
  • Upload digital backups into online Cloud storage 
    • Cloud storage options are inexpensive ways of storing a large amount of data online
    • There are many options for Cloud service providers, including the popular Google Drive and Dropbox
    • The data can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection
    • The data can be encrypted so that users require a login or a password to access it
    • Automatic Cloud backups can be set to run weekly, daily or more frequently on computers with internet access
    • It’s important to note that this option is not completely safe. There is the risk of Cloud servers collapsing and data being lost in this manner. As with any backup method, it’s best to combine methods for more assured protection.

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