During the third year of my Ph.D. program I worked as a research assistant for a digital research lab. One of the most important things I learned during that assistantship was how to properly back up and store digital projects! I thought I would share some of this information with those of you who are working digitally! I organized this using the 5 Ws to make navigation easier.
1. Who should be backing up projects?
Anyone that works on digital projects! Which means you! :)
2. What should I be backing up?
Anything in a digital format that is important to you and to your career! This can include things such as course notes, course work, essays, bibliographies, research data, your thesis, your dissertation, publications, etc. This information is also applicable to other digital projects, too, such as artwork, blog posts, poems, videos, etc. Anything that is important needs to be backed up!
3. When should I be backing up my projects?
I back up files that I have been actively working on once a day, typically at the end of the day before I power down my computer(s). I back these files up onto all of the storage devices that I own. This includes newly created filed and/or files that already existed that I have been working on. This might seem excessive, but it is important to get into the habit of doing it frequently. You never know what will happen tomorrow! If you don’t do any work one day, no worries – you don’t need to back anything up that day, so long as you didn’t make any new files or make changes to pre-existing files.
4. Where should I be backing up my projects?
There are three main types of storage, which includes storing projects on: (1) an external device; (2) an internal device; (3) an online file storage website.
External device: the most common external devices include memory cards, flash drives, and external hard drives. Most computers built today have some sort of input (or adapter) for these devices. But this category also includes CDs, tapes, etc. It’s recommended that you have an external device that can be used with most computers today! If you need to use an external device that is not as common (such as a floppy disk), make sure you keep a computer adapter handy!
Internal device: which is another way of saying an internal hard drive! When you save something on your computer chances are you are saving it to a hard drive. Some computers can have multiple internal hard drives installed, which is really helpful if you are dealing with a lot of large digital files!
Online File Storage: these sites are designed to host your files so that you can access them on multiple devices. There are many websites available for you to pick from, but the most common are: iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Box! Online file storage sites are great because they often save ‘versions’ of your documents, which is helpful if you need to retrieve a previous version.
All of these types of storage cost money and vary in quality, so make sure to do your research before making any big purchases! If you are a student, it is possible that your college/university/workplace offers a discount on these types of storage, so check with them before making any purchases! In rare instances, they might even offer these things for free! My university provides all students with a free Google Drive account that can store up to 5TB of data! Some universities also offer grants to students to help with these sorts of purchases, so keep an eye out for any grants/scholarships that cover these types of expenses!
Ideally you should have one of each type for your digital projects! For example: I have my dissertation saved on a USB drive, on my computers, and on Google Drive. The reason why you want to have one of each type is so that you are still able to access your files if you lose access to something. Which is a good transition to the next piece of advice…
5. Why should I be backing up my projects?
Because as I previously mentioned, you never know what can happen! You might lose your USB, your laptop might get stolen, your hard drive might become corrupted, etc. Having multiple copies of your digital projects means that if something happens to one of your storage devices, you still have the others! If you don’t have internet, you can still access your files on your internal/external storage device. If you lose your external storage device, you still have your internal storage device/online file storage account.
I have a friend who is currently writing her dissertation for a Ph.D. program. A year ago, she had only one copy of her dissertation and it was on a USB stick. She ended up losing that USB stick, which contained a dissertation that was over 100 pages long at that point! She had to start all over again! Don’t let that happen to you!!!
6. How should I be backing up my projects?
Organization is key. Having multiple backups of your project means nothing if you can’t find it on any of your storage devices!
Make sure each storage device is organized by using folders that are properly named. It’s fine if you have folders within folders within folders – the more the better! I realize that this can get annoying pretty quickly, but trust me it is well worth it. Also make sure that you give your files a clear and concise name. Naming all of your papers “paper #” for example is not helpful, especially if a lot of time passes and you forget which one is which!
If you are working on a project that will take you more than a day to complete (such as a thesis/dissertation), save multiple copies that are marked with the dates that you worked on it! Have you ever had a teacher/professor who wants you to completely change your project, only to look at the revised version and request that you change it back? Or have you ever worked on something and then wanted to change it back to the way it was? Having multiple copies of larger projects allows you to retrace your steps and helps during these sorts of situations. I currently do this for my dissertation, publications, and research data. The files look something like this:
In this format, each date corresponds to the day that I made some sort of significant change to the document. So if I want to go back to how my dissertation looked on the 1st of May, I would click the first file. The most recent files will be the ones at the bottom. If you plan to make multiple copies of a project and date them, make sure you use the same format for all of those files. For example: don’t switch between DD/MM/YY and MM/DD/YY. Remain consistent so that it is easier to identify and organize your files!
Also make sure that you use the same organization system for all of your storage devices! Consistency is important. For example: copies of my dissertation are located in the same folder that is in the same exact place (i.e. path) on each device. This makes it a lot easier to back up your projects, since you know what you need to be looking for each time.
I hope this was helpful to some of you! If you have any questions, feel free to send them my way!