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Research Data Management Resources: Retention

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Guidance on Retention Periods

Research data will typically be stored, managed and shared during a project, but may also need to be retained longer for a variety of reasons. This guidance will help you understand some of the factors that influence the length of the retention period for data, so you can make the correct decisions when planning, selecting storage and depositing data.

You may have your own view on how long you need or want to retain data. This will be influenced by the discipline you are working in, the type of data created and whether further work or publications will be based on it.  Factors that may influence retention include:

  • Research impact
  • Academic reputation
  • Derived and linked publications
  • Statutory/legal obligations
  • University and/or Funder policy requirements - see table below
  • On-going or further research
  • Validation and testing by others

The University of Southampton Research Data Management Policy has a requirement that all significant Research Data should be held for a minimum of 10 years.  This may be longer where the data is actively used.  Where you are unsure what data might need to be held you should seek discipline specific advice from your supervisor or Faculty Head of Research as appropriate.

Data Retention and Repository

It is not a requirement that all research data must be held within the University.  Discipline specific repositories and funder requirements may mean that research data will be held elsewhere.  You should consider what services you may require to meet the retention requirements applicable to your data

Data and Publication

This is a growing and fast moving area.  Some publishers are now requiring the deposit of supporting data with the article, while others require that a link to the data is provided.  You will need to take this into account when considering how long you will need to retain the data and may influence your choice of storage location.

Costs of Data Retention

The largest share of costs for data are incurred in preparation and ingest to the selected storage service, as shown by the costing tool provided by the UK Data Archive. Extended data retention periods may have some additional costs that will impact your project directly or they may be covered by the full economic costing included in your proposal.  Invariably data retention periods will outlive projects, so you may want to consider how this will be funded as part of your data management plan and/or in your proposal – check with your funder’s guidelines.

Over time costs will be incurred for storage, typically based on the volume of data stored for a given retention period, and for additional services, for example active data management such as reformatting to counter possible format obsolescence. The latter is now regarded as less of a problem for popular formats, but may need to be considered for specialised data formats.

In some cases the costs and benefits of data storage and retention decisions may need to be assessed and justified for funding purposes. The KRDS (Keeping Research Data Safe) Benefits Analysis Toolkit may be used for this.

Expired retention period

Research data represents an investment not just from the funder and the University but also by the individual researcher. However, as part of the deposit process you will be asked to consider what should happen at the end of the retention period and who is responsible for carrying this out.  Under the University policy the review process will be the responsibility of the lead PI’s Faculty. (see also Secure Destruction of data)

Retention Requirements

Funder Requirements

Funders may also require some or all data to be held.  While they may not have prescribed retention periods, all UK funding councils have a ‘sharing’ policy, as do other significant funders, such as Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust.  This implies the need for data to be held in a safe and an accessible way. The Digital Curation Centre has a helpful overview of funders’ data policies



Data Availability





University of Southampton In line with funders sharing policy Min. rolling 10 years from date of last access Institutional (ePrints Soton) or subject-based

applies to signficant data; data catalogue record entry - ePrints Soton

AHRC Within 3 months of end of project Min. 3 years from end of project; ADS longer

Archaeology Data Service*, Institutional or subject-based

*Contact ADS within 3 months of start of proposed research

BBSRC Timely; no later than publication of main findings; best practice 10 years from end of project
Cancer Research UK Timely; no later than acceptance for publication of the main findings Curated throughout its life-cycle for a min. of 5 years after end of project Limited period of exclusive use for primary research
EPSRC Metadata available within 12 months of generation; data - timely 10 years from the date of last access
ESRC Within 3 months of end of project

UK Data Archive;

UK Data Service

Limited defined period of exclusive use for primary research team

The ESRC UK Data Service are responsible for ensuring long-term access to the data

MRC Timely 10 years from generation (in original form)
NERC As soon as possible after the end of data collection NERC Data Centre, where available and data appropriate

Embargo allowed; normally max. 2 years

Criteria to identify data sets with long-term value found in NERC's Data Value Checklist

STFC Within 6 months of relevant publication

Min. 10 years after end of project for data that can be reproduced;

"In perpetuity" for data that cannot be re-measured or reproduced.

Data should be made publically available after a limited period, unless there are specific reasons why this should not happen

Wellcome Trust Timely; linked to publication Min. 10 years