January 2024

Improving the Usability of Archaeological Data through Written Guidelines

by Anne Austin, Ixchel M. Faniel, Brittany Brannon, Sarah Whitcher Kansa

Archaeologists frequently use written guidelines such as site manuals, recording forms, and digital prompts during excavations to create usable data within and across projects. Most written guidelines emphasize creating either standardized datasets or narrative summaries; however, previous research has demonstrated that the resulting datasets are often difficult to (re)use. Our study analyzed observations and interviews conducted with four archaeological excavation teams, as well as interviews with archaeological data reusers, to evaluate how archaeologists use and implement written guidelines. These excavation team and reuser experiences suggest that archaeologists need more specific best practices to create and implement written guidelines that improve the quality and usability of archaeological data. We present recommendations to improve written guidelines that focus on a project's methods, end-of-season documentation, and naming practices. We also present a Written Guidelines Checklist to help project directors improve their written guidelines before, during, and after fieldwork as part of a collaborative process. Ideally, these best practices for written guidelines will make it easier for team members and future reusers to incorporate their own and others’ archaeological data into their research.

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Advances in Archaeological Practice

Improving the Usability of Archaeological Data through Written Guidelines

Austin, Anne, Ixchel M. Faniel, Brittany Brannon, and Sarah Whitcher Kansa. 2024. “Improving the Usability of Archaeological Data through Written Guidelines.” Advances in Archaeological Practice, January, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1017/aap.2023.38.