researchers have developed and have continually improved methods and tools designed to maintain the integrity of research. Some of these methods and tools are used within specific fields of research, such as statistical tests of significance, double-blind trials, and proper phrasing of questions on surveys. Others apply across all research fields, such as describing to others what one has done so that research data and results can be verified and extended.
Because of the critical importance of methods, scientific papers must include a description of the procedures used to produce the data, sufficient to permit reviewers and readers of a scientific paper to evaluate not only the validity of the data but also the reliability of the methods used to derive those data. If this information is not available, other researchers may be less likely to accept the data and the conclusions drawn from them. They also may be unable to reproduce accurately the conditions under which the data were derived.
The best methods will count for little if data are recorded incorrectly or haphazardly. The requirements for data collection differ among disciplines and research groups, but researchers have a fundamental obligation to create and maintain an accurate, accessible, and permanent record of what they have done in sufficient detail for others to check and replicate their work. Depending on the field, this obligation may require entering data into bound notebooks with sequentially numbered pages using permanent ink, using a computer application with secure data entry fields, identifying when and where work was done, and retaining data for specified lengths of time. In much industrial research and in some academic research, data notebooks need to be signed and dated by a witness on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, beginning researchers often receive little or no formal training in recording, analyzing, storing, or sharing data. Regularly scheduled meetings to discuss data issues and policies maintained by research groups and institutions can establish clear expectations and responsibilities.