IS research support



File formats

This page discusses file types and formats that you can use for research data, and explains the difference between proprietary and preservation-suitable formats.

Letters at the end of a file name show what format that a file is saved in. For example:,

  • file ending in .doc - created in Microsoft Word
  • file ending in .psd - created in Adobe Photoshop.

While these file types are common, they are also proprietary. This means they can only be used with the correct software. This can be a problem when it comes to preserving and storing data longer-term. Companies may change their file types, products stop being updated, some programmes may be discontinued, and files then become useless.

This means you need to create preservation versions of your data in an easily reusable format that is an open standard, so it can be opened and used by a number of programmes. The data in these files may not be as fully formatted, or as "rich" as the original format, but the data will be available and preserved.

Overview of file formats

Type of data Original format Preservation format
Quantitative or tabular data
  • Excel spreadsheet .xls
  • SPSS .sav .por
  • Stata .dta
  • Matlab/Maple/SAS/Minitab
  • Comma-separated values .csv
  • Tab delimited file .tab
  • PDF
  • Word .doc .docx
  • Plain text .txt
  • PDF/A
  • PDF
  • .jpeg .jpg
  • Photoshop .psd
  • .tiff .tif
Qualitative data (textual)
  • NVivo
  • Plain text .txt
  • Rich text .rtf
  • Extensive mark-up language .xml
  • Hypertext mark-up language .html
Audio data
  • MPEG-1 Audio Layer .mp3
  • Windows Media Audio .wav
  • Wrapper Waveform Audio Format (WAV) with codec Linear Pulse Code Modulation (LPCM) .wav
  • Free Lossless Audio Codec .flac
Moving images
  • Audio Video Interleave (AVI)
  • MPEG-4 .mp4
  • Codec FFV1.3 / LPCM, wrapper MKV (Matroska)
Geospatial data
  • Adobe Illustrator .ai
  • ArcGIS
  • Geo-referenced TIFF .tif .tfw
  • Tabular GIS attribute data
  • ESRI Shapefile .shp .shx .dbf; optional: .prj .sbx .sbn

For more information and formats, see:


Help and support

Library Services, University of Kent

Contact the Library  |  Give Library feedback | Library Regulations

Last Updated: 27/07/2017