Physical Research Data

There are costs involved in keeping all forms of data but space is also an issue when considering the long term storage of physical research data. 

There are options, such as digitising documents, entering the information into a software database or destroying the data. Much will depend on the type of research being carried out and the project itself.

The aim of preserving data is to support open research and reproducibility, provide an audit trail (if appropriate) and  enable data sharing. For some research projects digitisation and data destruction is the solution and there will be no physical data to store.

Personal or special category data

The most common form of paper information that needs to be archived is the consent form. These have to be kept for a minimum of 10 years after the end of a research project (but this can be significantly longer, dependent on how long the project data has to be kept). Guidance can be sought from Records Management.

Consent can also be obtained digitally or the forms digitised.

Both born digital consent forms and digitised forms need to be kept securely and archived.  They must not be stored on a personal drive, but rather on a departmental or other storage area. Access should be limited, and files should either be encrypted or password protected. The forms should be linked to the research project with appropriate metadata and listed in a departmental data asset register.

If you do digitise your consent forms then you should make sure the originals are treated as confidential waste and disposed of accordingly. Contact Records Management for more information.

At the end of a project, if there is still some physical data that has to be kept, then this should be kept separate from the consent forms. Such data has the potential to be shared for useful research purposes, especially if it is anonymised, and so a record of the data should be made in the Research Data Catalogue. The record should describe what the data consists of, where it is held, and indicate the location of its outputs (journal articles and/or reports), as well as any other useful information or keywords as necessary.

If the physical data is special category, is only partly anonymised, pseudonymised or restricted in any way, a record of the data should still be made in the Research Data Catalogue even though sharing will be restricted. Details of who would be able to have access if a request was made should be given to the Liverpool Research Data team and the Records Management team if they are holding the data. The record in the Data Catalogue will show the data access restrictions.


Plans should be made at the beginning of a project to deal with physical data if large amounts are going to be generated. There are inevitably costs involved in this, but such costs can be mitigated by considering digitising and destroying as you go along. Sorting out such a situation at the end of a project will be far more time consuming and expensive. Much depends on the type of research, length of project and funder expectations. Plans for new longitudinal studies need to consider the costs of digitisation as an ongoing expense. Many funders allow you to include the cost of data management (this will include digitisation as long as justified) but only whilst the project is running, which is why digitisation should be built into your plans.

The University's preferred supplier for digitising and records management offsite, usually at the end of a project, is Restore. If their service is not appropriate, please discuss with Records Management.