What is Research Data?

Research data are all of the physical or digital material that underpins published research outputs. Research data is more specific than the broad term ‘data’, which “are characteristics or information…that are collected through observation”1

Research data is “any information that has been collected, observed, generated or created to validate original research findings”2. The term usually refers to digital information, but can also include non-digital formats (notebooks, diaries, sketches). Importantly, research data can be qualitative or quantitative, and although many people automatically associate the term with the sciences, research data are collected and used in scholarship across all academic disciplines. Research data are not just spreadsheets of numbers; they can take many formats, from video and photography to artefacts and diaries: “Whether a psychologist collecting survey data to better understand human behavior, an artist using data to generate images and sounds, or an anthropologist using audio files to document observations about different cultures, scholarly research across all academic fields is increasingly data-driven”2

Research data are “data that are used as primary sources to support technical or scientific enquiry, research, scholarship, or artistic activity, and that are used as evidence in the research process and/or are commonly accepted in the research community as necessary to validate research findings and results. All other digital and non-digital content have the potential of becoming research data. Research data may be experimental data, observational data, operational data, third-party data, public sector data, monitoring data, processed data, or repurposed data”4

2Research Data Management Explained
3Defining Research Data
4Research Data