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Research Data Management Plans

This is a guide for researchers applying to grants that require data management plans or data sharing plans, but it also contains general information about data management practices.

What is a Data Management Plan?

Many federal agencies, including NIH and NSF, require grant applications to include data management or sharing plans for projects that involve the collection or creation of data.  These data management plans, usually expected to be around two pages or less, typically include such areas as a description of the data and metadata to be used in the project, how these data will be stored, managed, shared, and preserved, and associated legal or ethical issues.

Data Sharing Requirements by Federal Agency 

Evaluating your Data Needs

Planning out the needs of the data to be included in or created by your project is a critical step.  You need to outline what formats your data are in and how this data will be stored, backed up, and, if necessary, preserved for future use.  Factors to consider are the storage space needed now and in the future (which can become substantial for image, GIS, and multimedia data or data collected through sensors) and restrictions on who can use and access the data.

Ethical and Legal Issues

It is important to consider the legal and ethical issues that can be related to your data, such as confidentiality, privacy, and intellectual property. American University's Institutional Review Board (IRB) oversees research, which often includes data collection, involving human subjects.


Sharing your Data

Sharing data that you create through a project funded by a federal agency, foundation, or other research sponsor is an important component of your data management plan.  As stated within the NSF Data Sharing Policy:

"Investigators are expected to share with other researchers, at no more than incremental cost and within a reasonable time, the primary data, samples, physical collections and other supporting materials created or gathered in the course of work under NSF grants. Grantees are expected to encourage and facilitate such sharing." (

See also AU Campus Resources for data sharing and management planning.