Conducting research is a bit like parenting.

Raising a child involves a lot of cleaning and tidying, setting standards, and maintaining order, all of which goes completely unnoticed and for which the parent receives absolutely no credit.

Similarly, producing a bright, shiny result from the raw beginnings of a research project involves a lot of work that is almost never seen or acknowledged. Data sets never pop into existence in a fully mature and reliable state; they must be cleaned and massaged into an appropriate form. Just getting the data ready for analysis often represents a significant component of a research project.

Another thing that parenting and the “dirty jobs” of research have in common is that nobody gets taught how to do it. Parents just learn on the job and researchers typically have to do likewise when it comes to learning how to manage their data.

The aim of this book is to provide important information about how to work with research data, including ideas and techniques for performing the important behind-the-scenes tasks that take up so much time and effort, but typically receive little attention in formal education.

The focus of this book is on computational tools. The intention is to improve the awareness of what sorts of tasks can be achieved and to describe the correct approach to performing these tasks. There is also an emphasis on working with data technologies by typing computer code at a keyboard, rather than using a mouse to select menus and dialog boxes.

This book will not turn the reader into a web designer, or a database administrator, or a software engineer. However, this book contains information on how to publish information via the world wide web, how to access information stored in different formats, and how to write small programs to automate simple, repetitive tasks. A great deal of information on these topics already exists in books and on the internet; the value of this book is in collecting only the important subset of this information that is necessary to begin applying these technologies within a research setting.


Paul Murrell

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