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Data Management Recommended Practices: Sustainable File Types

Quantitative Data

Tabular data with minimal metadata


  • comma separated values file (.csv) 
  • tab-delimited file (.tab).

Also acceptable:

  • OpenDocument Format Spreadsheet (.ods)

Tabular data with extensive metadata


  • SPSS portable format (.por)
  • eXtensible Mark-up Language (.xml)

Textual Qualitative Data


  • eXtensible Mark-up Language (.xml)
  • Rich Text Format (.rtf)
  • plain text format (.txt)
  • PDF/A

Also acceptable:

  • PDF
  • OpenDocument Text Format (.odf)
  • HTML

Geospatial Data


  • geo-referenced TIFF (.tif, .tfw)
  • Geographic Markup Language (.gml or .xml)

Also acceptable:

  • Keyhole Markup Language (.kml)
  • ESRI Shapefile (.shp, .shx, .dbf)
  • MapInfo (.mif/.mid)

Find tools for converting between Geospatial file types on our Spatial Data page



  • TIFF (.tif)

Also acceptable:

  • JPEG (.jpg)
  • PNG (.png)
  • PDF/A



  • MPEG4 (.mp4)

Also acceptable:

  • motion JPEG 2000 (.jp2)



  • Free Lossless Audio Codec (.flac)
  • MPEG audio layer III (.mp3) (for spoken word only audio)

Also acceptable:

  • Audio Interchange Format (.aif)
  • Wave Waveform Audio File Format (.wav)
  • MPEF audio layer III (.mp3)



NMR, IR, Raman, UV, Mass Spec data



Computer Aided Design (CAD)


  • Extensible 3D (.x3D, .x3dv)
  • AutoCAD DXF (.dxf)

Also acceptable:

  • PDF/E
  • Universal 3D (.u3d)
  • Product Representation Compact (.prc)
  • AutoCAD (.dwg, .dxf)


This page offers file format suggestions for

  • Quantitative Data
    • with minimal metadata
    • with extensive metadata
  • Textual Qualitative Data
  • Geospatial Data
  • Images
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Spectra
  • Computer Aided Design (CAD)

Warning about Converting Files

Not all file formats convert to more sustainable ones with ease. If you aren't familiar with how converting files impacts your data, please talk to us and we can make sure no data is lost.

If you're working with a specialized software that forces you to use a proprietary or nonstandard file format, you can do a few things to help ensure your data's usability in the future.

  • Look to see if there is an alternative file format that is compatible with the data you collected
  • Ask us to see if there's an alternative file format that's compatible with the data you collected
  • Note in your ReadMe file or other documentation what software, including the version number, you used and, if possible, keep a copy of that software available as long as the data exists. We can talk to you about that to.

Resources & References 

Also search Research DataQ for answers