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Recommended file formats for your research data

 

March 20, 2020 update: While the physical SFU Libraries are temporarily closed due to COVID-19 measures, we are happy to continue to support you with any research data management questions remotely. Please feel free to contact us by email at data-services@sfu.ca during this time, and we can set up a meeting via video conferencing or telephone.

 

The following table provides file format suggestions for you based on the type of research data you have. The best formats allow for data files to be preserved in the most straightforward way, so that they remain usable through software upgrades and changes in the computing environment. 

Format Best Good Poor
Text
  • Plain text (.txt) -- ASCII or Unicode (Notepad, TextEdit, gedit)
  • XML with included schema (.xml)
  • PDF/A-1 (.pdf) -- (See options in your PDF creator to ensure PDF/A-1 format)
  • Markdown (.md)
  • Plain text (.txt) -- non-ASCII or Unicode
  • Rich Text Format 1.x (.rtf)
  • Cascading Style Sheets (.css)
  • HTML (.html, .htm)
  • LaTeX with referenced files (.latex)
  • Open Office (.odt, .sxw)
  • PDF with fonts embedded (.pdf)
  • Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx)
  • all others

Non-vector

Images

  • TIFF -- uncompressed (.tiff)
  • PNG (.png)
  • TIFF -- compressed (.tiff)
  • JPEG (.jpg)
  • GIF (.gif)
  • BMP (.bmp)
  • PhotoShop (.psd)
  • RAW files
  • all others

Vector

Graphics

  • SVG (.svg)
  • Computer Graphics Metafile (.cgm)
  • Encapsulated Postscript (.eps)
  • Macromedia Flash (.swf)
  • all others
Audio
  • AIFF -- PCM (.aif, .aiff)
  • WAV -- PCM (.wav)
  • Note -- neither of these are compressed audio formats. For very large audio, or audio that is already compressed, it is advised to stick to one of the formats listed under "medium confidence."
  • Standard MIDI (.mid)
  • Ogg Vorbis (.ogg)
  • Free Lossless Audio Codec (.flac)
  • MP3 (.mp3)
  • MPEG-4 without DRM (.mp4, .aac, .m4a)
  • AIFC -- compressed AIFF (.aifc)
  • RealAudio (.rm, .ra)
  • Windows Media Audio (.wma)
  • all others
Video
  • MPEG-4 (.mp4)
  • MPEG-1, MPEG-2 (.mp1, .mp2)
  • QuickTime (.mov)
  • Matroska (.mkv)
  • Ogg Theora (.ogv, .ogg)
  • Windows Media Video (.wmv)
  • AVI (.avi)
  • RealVideo (.rm, .rv)
  • all others

Spreadsheet

or Database

  • Comma-separated Values (.csv)
  • MySQL database backup
  • Other delimited text (please convert to CSV if possible)
  • dBASE (.dbf)
  • OpenOffice (.ods)
  • Excel (.xls, .xlsx)
  • all others
Computer Programs  
  • Computer program source code (unmanaged)
  • Managed source code (e.g. Visual Studio)
  • Compiled / Executable files
Presentation  
  • OpenOffice (.odp)
  • PDF (.pdf)
  • PowerPoint (.ppt, .pptx)
  • all others