Writing a data management plan

A data management plan is a document or statement describing how research data will be handled both during a project and after the project has ended. They are sometimes known by a different name depending on the emphasis that an organisation wishes to give them; the following are some common variations:

Writing a data management plan for the first time can be challenging. To help you, there are templates you can fill out, various forms of guidance to read, and you can contact the Library Research Data Service for advice.

It is worth taking the time to consider issues thoroughly and to find answers to any questions you identify as this will save you time and effort later. The data management issues relevant to your area of research are unlikely to change rapidly, so you will be able to re-use and adapt aspects of your data management plan for future research projects.

Your plan should be concise and appropriate to the nature of your research, with more detailed plans for larger projects. You should justify the decisions you make and be prepared to implement your plan. You can also update your plan once your project has started to reflect changes in your research, or to fix aspects that do not work as well as expected.

Using a data management plan template

To help you write a data management plan that is appropriate for your needs, there are a range of templates and tools available. These can help you to structure the content of your data management plan and focus on the topics relevant to your funder or institutional policy requirements.

Funder templates

Most Research Councils and some other funders provide templates and guidance for writing data management plans. These templates have been designed to meet the specific requirements of the funder in question.

We recommend that you use any templates or guidance provided by your research funder when applying for funding. This will ensure that you've covered all of the criteria that your plan will be reviewed against.

When using these templates, ensure you are using the correct version: they are updated periodically, and some funders provide different templates depending on the programme or the stage of the application process.

Other templates

If your funder does not provide a template for you to use, there are other templates available that are more generic.

If you are a PhD or Masters student, we recommend using the University of Bath postgraduate data management plan template, which has been specifically designed to help you plan how to manage your data during your project.

Otherwise, we recommend using the checklist for a data management plan (external website), produced by the Digital Curation Centre, as a starting point.

Using a data management planning tool

A couple of tools exist to help you complete a data management plan template.

DMPonline is a web-based tool that breaks templates down into small sections; alongside each one it presents relevant guidance and suggestions for what to include. The tool was developed by the Digital Curation Centre and we have loaded it with additional guidance specific to the University of Bath. It contains templates for all of the major UK funding bodies, as well as some international funders. It also contains generic templates including the University of Bath postgraduate data management plan template and one based on the Digital Curation Centre checklist.

If you are collaborating on a project, DMPonline allow you to specify which other users of the tool can see your plan; they do not have to be based at the same institution. You can choose whether they can edit your plan or only view it.

When you have finished writing your data management plan, you can export it from DMPonline in different file formats, including PDF, CSV, text, HTML, JSON and XML. You can select which information you want to include in your export and alter the formatting to meet your funder requirements.

DMPTool is similar to DMPonline, but includes templates and guidance based around the requirements of major US funding bodies. Data management plans created using DMPTool can be shared with collaborators and then exported in either PDF or RTF formats.

Information to include in a data management plan

Because of the diversity of research, there is no single correct answer to what a data management plan should cover. However, a good data management plan should typically address the following topics:

What data will you create or re-use?

How will you document and describe your data?

How will you protect your data and those associated with your research?

Which data will you retain and preserve after your project ends?

What are your plans for data sharing?

Example data management plans

If you've not written a data management plan before, it can be helpful to look at what a good example should look like.

When using an example plan, consider how the issues raised would apply to your project to ensure that the plans you make are appropriate for the data you will be collecting or creating.

Further guidance on writing data management plans

You may find the following external resources useful when writing a data management plan.