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File formats

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File formats Guide

This basic Guide will be useful for those who need to consider how to choose which file formats to use to gather, transfer and store research data.

A file format describes the way information is organised in a computer file. It is important that organisations implement data management policies that conform to standards that manages risk of file format obsolescence or degradation of information storage.

This Guide covers:

  • Institutional planning implications
  • Tools to manage file formats
  • File format obsolescence
  • Migration
  • Open and proprietary formats
  • Lossy and Lossless formats
  • Compression
  • The importance of standards
  • Retaining multiple formats
  • Future file formats
  • Preservation formats and display formats

Key messages:

  • File format types should ideally be considered and decided upon before the commencement of data collection
  • Choosing a suitable file format may require careful analysis of the advantages of proprietary or open standards software to ensure that access, reuse and future storage of the data meets future reuse of that data stored.
  • File formats can become obsolete for various reasons resulting in loss of ability to access the file, read the file or reuse the data, either entirely or partially
  • Retaining multiple formats and instances of data may add to the scale of data being stored or sync difficulties however doing so can reduce the risk of loss of the original high-resolution file
  • High-resolution data may require conversion to another format for ease of visualisation online or transmission via email messaging. Consideration must therefore be made for the long-term preservation of data taking into account the storage, display, visualisation, conversion or reuse of data

File formats Guide