Data Services: Database Best Practices

This guide provides information on managing data and obtaining secondary data for research.

Why Use a Database

Databases provide much more functionality for managing data than spreadsheets do. Plus, it is much more difficult to accidentally erase or mess up data within a database.

Database Best Practices

The following are some tips on using databases to manage your data.

1. Always include a "header" line that describes the variables as the first line in any table.

2. Always use plain ASCII text for file names, variable names, and data values.

3. Structure your database so that when you add data to it, you add only rows, not columns

4. All cells within a column should contain only one type of data (i.e. text or numerical).

5. Use a relational database to record data only once.

6. Separate information collected at different scales into different tables.

7. Use standardized date formats, such as the W3C Date-Time format as follows:



YYYY = four-digit year
MM = two-digit month (01=January, etc.)
DD = two-digit day of month (01 through 31)
hh = two digits of hour (00 through 23) (am/pm NOT allowed)
mm = two digits of minute (00 through 59)
ss = two digits of second (00 through 59)
s = one or more digits representing a decimal fraction of a second
TZD = time zone designator (Z for Greenwich Mean Time or +hh:mm or -hh:mm for other time zones)

Content Citation

Content on this page was taken from the following report:

Borer, Elizabeth T., Seabloom, Eric W., Jones, Matthew B., & Schildhauer, Mark. (2009). Some simple guidelines for effective data management. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 90(2), 205-214. doi: 10.1890/0012-9623-90.2.205