File formats

Is your colleague - working in a different technical environment, and with different software – able to easily access and re-use your data? What demands does future software put on your data? Think carefully about storing your research data in a file format that permits easy access, re-use and sustainability.

When you collect data, you will choose software to store and analyse your data. If you want to exchange data with others or if you want to use data at a later stage, saving your data as proprietary formats (i.e. a format controlled and owned by a company) may cause problems. Software versions also change, and if your colleagues don't have a license for your chosen software, the files are useless to them.

Therefore, when choosing a file format consider:

  • whether you could save data in a non-proprietary (i.e. open) file format when possible. For open file format details are public (everyone can read them) and they can easily be exchanged. However, they will lack some of the specific functionality that is proprietary to a software product. As such, conversion to an open file format could potentially result in some data loss and saving your data in both the proprietary and open format is recommended.
  • when it is necessary to save files in a proprietary format, to include a readme.txt file which documents at least the (company) name and version of the software used to generate your files.
  • that some proprietary formats have become ad-hoc standards in certain files like PDF or ESRI Shapefiles. Although some ad-hoc standards are too big to fail, others have changed. For example, Adobe Flash has been widely used for moving images, but it is now becoming obsolete and Adobe is not developing further. Be aware of potential change when choosing an ad-hoc standard.
  • that data repositories provide lists of recommended or preferred file formats to use when publishing your data through them. These formats are of which the repository is confident that they will offer the best long-term guarantees in terms of usability, accessibility and sustainability. The lists can help select the format for data exchange during your work. As an example, check the preferred file format lists of the two data repositories, supported by Wageningen University & Research; DANS-EASY and 4TU.ResearchData.

If you have questions or need help with converting your data into preferred file formats, contact the Data Desk