By Drew Thomas |


Technology has come a long way from the infamous Blue Screen of Death that signaled destruction for whatever document you might have been working on. Goodbye essay, hello staying up all night retyping everything. Today, when Microsoft Word crashes it will automatically save your progress and notify you the next time you open the programme. But accidents still happen—whether they be technological or physical (I’m looking at you, dropped bottle of beer). So stop reading this, and BACK UP YOUR WORK!!!!


You have zero excuses for losing your research. Backing up your work takes minimal effort. I have a friend whose laptop was stolen from her car while parked in front of her home. All of her important files, not to mention precious photos of her children’s early childhood years, were lost forever. It would not have been nearly as tragic, had her files been backed up.

You have zero excuses for losing your research.

If you currently do not back up your data on a regular basis, you need to change that. This small investment prevents the worst of catastrophes. There are many ways to do this from free to monthly subscriptions with little to no effort.

You’ve probably heard of all of these services, but do you actually use them and back up your files on a regular basis? Let’s make that a yes.


USB Flashdrive or External Hard drive

Everyone should have an external hard drive for backing up your computer. It plugs into your computer’s USB port and appears as a folder you can copy all of your files into. You can find them reasonably priced on Amazon or any other technology retailer. If you don’t want to back up your entire computer, but only important files, then a smaller, USB Flashdrive might be the better option. You should have at least one of these for transferring conference PowerPoint presentations to the designated presentation computer.

Cloud Services

Cloud computing has grown exponentially in the past few years. You probably already use one of the services, such as DropBox, Google Drive, or iCloud. It’s just like an external hard drive, but it removes all of the labour of plugging in your external hard drive (the most difficult of tasks). It is basically a folder on your computer that backs up all of its contents on a remote server (‘the cloud’) operated by a third party. Many options have free plans available, but with limited space. A small, monthly subscription will provide you with plenty of space. The best part? You can access your files on any computer connected to the internet. Check with your university, as its email provider might already provide such services.

Choose an option that works best for you and stick with it.

Automatic Back Up Services

Don’t even want to ever think about backing up your files? Then let your computer do it for you. Many services will automatically backup the contents of your computer at regular intervals. Apple’s Time Machine does just that. You can even buy an external hard drive that connects to your wireless router, where all your backups will be saved. There are other online cloud services that also offer these options for a monthly subscription, such as iDrive, CrashPlan, SugarSync, or Open Drive.

As you can see, there are multiple options for backing up your files. It is not worth spending years and years on your research, only to lose it all in an instant. This can all be easily avoided. Choose an option that works best for you and stick with it.

What do I do, you might ask? All of my files are located on my Google Drive or DropBox. At the end of every working day, I back them up on my local hard drive in a second copy. I also regularly back up everything on an external hard drive. Three copies are best for me.

Remember, there are no excuses. Go back up your data!


Drew Thomas is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Theology and Philosophy from Saint Louis University and a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard University. His PhD is a study of the rise of the Wittenberg print industry during Martin Luther’s Reformation. He is currently the Communications Coordinator for the Universal Short Title Catalogue and the Digital Developer for the Caroline Minuscule Mapping Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @DrewBThomas.


Images: Featured Image © Olga, used under CC License; Blue Screen of Death © Wikimedia Commons