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In fairly common, but unfortunate circumstances, File Management and Backup Strategies can mean the difference between handing in an assignment on time and losing your work forever!

The idea of Backup Strategies is very simple - it is about making and storing an extra copy of all of your important files / documents.

It is very IMPORTANT that you do this, that you do it regularly and you do it efficiently.

This can quickly become a complicated subject if you want to do a full system backup or if you want to automate parts of the process, but the information on this page is designed to help you make backups of your coursework and drafts in case you need a disaster recovery solution (computer dies, pendrive lost, flood, fire, earthquake, etc.).

 

  • Why should I backup my work?

    Losing Data / Documents

    Computer data / documents / files are not completely safe and there are a number of scenarios whereby you can lose your data:

    • Pendrives die and/or get lost.
    • Laptops and desktops can crash through failure of components.
    • Laptops and desktops can crash through interaction with liquids (i.e. spilled energy drink).
    • Hard drives can fail.
    • Any computer data can become corrupted, accidentally deleted or wiped.
    • Your computer can be hijacked by ransomware (where you have to pay a fee to criminals in order to get your data back).
    • Your computer can be infected with a virus that destroys your data.
    • Your computer can be effected / destroyed by environmental events (fire, flood, etc.).

    And this will usually happen when you have an assignment due.

    Assignments and Assessment

    When you have an assignment due and have been busy putting together notes, drafts, references and/or your actual essay - this is when you are most likely to:

    • Be working late
    • Be stressed
    • Be tired
    • Let your guard down
    • Make mistakes

    During times of stress and tiredness you are most vulnerable to:

    • Allowing viruses onto your computer (when downloading files, documents or software)
    • Deleting the wrong document
    • Forgetting to save the right document(s) before closing them
    • Spilling something (like an energy drink) over your laptop

    This is also the time when you are least likely to have put aside a few minutes to backup your work - because you NEED to get on with the process of writing.

    Safeguard Against Disaster

    All you need to do is take a few minutes to make a copy of your important documents.

    If you have followed our advice on File Management then you can easily make a copy of a whole module folder.

    Backup your work regularly, but also make a backup just prior to that final push - when the assignment is due.

    If you backup your work and then encounter a disaster - you will only have lost a few hours of work (since your last backup) and not everything.

  • What should I Backup and When?

    In a perfect World - you should backup everything, but in a perfect World - we would not need to do backups; because we would never lose any data.

    Backup Your Module Content

    You should try to do a regular backup of your core module content. If you have followed our File Management advice - each module will be sitting in its own folder on your computer or your university OneDrive. You can then do a quick copy/backup of those module folders. This backup should at least contain:

    • Assignment Drafts
    • Reference Lists
    • Notes
    • Any collected and/or relevant documents
    • Final Submissions

    Backup Your Assignment

    This is really important! Before you continue working on any assignment - make a copy of the document and put it somewhere safe.

    This is especially important if you are working on a longer piece of work; such as a dissertation. Imagine getting 5000-6000 words into your assignment and then finding your laptop will no longer respond. The hard drive has crashed and taken all your files with it!

    If you had done a backup (when you first sat down at your laptop) you would only have lost a few hours’ work and will still have the original document to return to.

    When to do a Backup?

    Again; in a perfect World – all of the time, but this is not usually practical for most computer users. The following table suggests the best times to do specific backups of your work:

    What When
    Assignments   Every time you have done some significant work on an assignment i.e. More than a couple of paragraphs. 
    Assignments   Do an extra backup just before you start your final push to get an assignment finished. This is when things are most likely to go wrong. 
    Lecture Notes   Whenever you type up a set of notes – make a backup copy to keep them safe. 
    Statistical / Empirical Data  Whenever you make amendments to a set of data – make a backup. Losing 10 minutes work (on data) can be a disaster for your results. 
    References / Bibliography  Backup whenever you make changes. An important reference, missing from an assignment, can greatly reduce your grades. You can use tools like RefWorks to store this information. 
    Audio / Video   Make a copy immediately. If you accidently delete, overwrite or break part of a recording – you may need to start again from the beginning. This is especially true if you are doing any editing to a recording - backup the original and work on a copy.
    Completed Assignments  As soon as you have completed an assignment – backup everything related to that work (notes, drafts, references, submissions, etc.). 
    Completed Modules As soon as you have completed a module – backup everything related to that module (notes, drafts, references, submissions, handbook, etc.). 

     

  • OneDrive

    The most efficient method for creating backups of your work is to either connect to your cloud storage or save copies into you cloud storage.

    At the University of Cumbria we use Microsoft OneDrive for student file storage and when you save a file/document on a university computer, the default saving location is into your OneDrive.

    This not only means that the file(s) are safely stored away from a local computer, but also:

    • OneDrive manages versions, so you can look at a file's history and look at an older version prior to making some edits.
    • You can access the stored files from anywhere in the world where you have an internet connect.

    Along side this auto-saving option, you can also simply drag and drop any file(s) into your OneDrive from any of your devices.

    See Sharing Files With Yourself for details of how to add files to OneDrive.

    PROs:

    No effort required if working on a university computer.

    Very easy to do if you are working on your own device (either via the web or the Mobile App).

    Previous versions of documents remain available through File History.

    You retain control of your files/documents even if you share them with other people (within the OneDrive environment).

    1tb of free storage (that's a lot).

    Access documents / files from anywhere on any internet connected device.

    CONs:

    If working on your own device and not directly connected to your university OneDrive, you must remember to save your work AND drag a copy into the OneDrive.

    Media files (images, audio, video, etc.) do not keep version history in such an efficient manner unless working in Microsoft formats. You will need to regularly save your file locally and then add it to the OneDrive.

  • Email

    A quick and easy way of doing a backup of a document is to simply email it to yourself.

    • On the device you are working on, open up your student or other email account in a web browser.
    • Start a New Email (New message) and address it to yourself. You can send email from your university email account and send this new message to the account that is sending it:

    backup_by_email_01,

    •  Drag your document(s) into the new email and hit send.

    PROs:

    Quick and easy to do if you are in a rush.

    Can even work when offline (your email will send next time you have a connection).

    CONs:

    Your email account can quickly fill up with both Sent and Received versions of your work.

    The version in your email will not update next time you make some edits - you will need to backup again each time.

  • Duplicating / Copying Files & Folders

    You can make a quick copy of any file, document or folder on your computer. Three ways of doing this are (Windows examples):

    1. 1. Right-click and hold on a document to drag a copy to another location:

      copyfile,
      When you let go of the mouse button - you will be presented with the menu shown above. Select Copy here and your item will be duplicated to this new location.
    2. 2. Right-click on a file and select Copy from the context menu:

      copyfile2,
      Right-click in another location / folder and select Paste from the context menu. Your file/folder has now been copied.
    3. 3. Select a file or folder and then press Ctrl and C on your keyboard (this has copied your content onto the clipboard). In a new location - press Ctrl and V (this will paste the contents of the clipboard i.e. your file or folder).

    PROs:

    Very quick and easy to do if you are in a rush.

    Great to use when making edits to media files (images, sound, video, etc.) as you then have a snapshot of the work at specific points that you can go back to.

    Works when offline as you are just working directly on your own computer.

    CONs:

    The copies are still on your computer, so if it breaks you have potentially lost the original and the copies.

    The copies will not update next time you make some edits - you will need to backup again each time.

  • Zip it up

    What?

    A Zip archive file is a special kind of folder that contains one or more documents, files or folders; along with some hidden information that explains what the files are.

    Archive files are used to for various reasons including:

    • Collecting multiple files/folders into a single file for
      • Easy storage
      • Sharing
      • Shrinking the space that the files use
    • Archiving files that need to be stored, but not necessarily used again
    • Creating installation files for software
    • and more...

    Zip Archives are represented on most computer systems, by a Zipped Folder icon:

    zip_folder,  

    Although you are mostly likely to see, use and create Archive Files with the .zip suffix - other archiving formats exist (.7z, .rar & .iso are quite common).

    Why?

    If you want to save a backup of a larger file, or multiple files, onto a pendrive / external hard drive - you can put them into a Zip archive file.

    If you want to email a larger file, or multiple files, to yourself - a Zip archive file will let you do that.

    If you want to shrink the size of a file before storing or sending - Zip it up.

    And; if you are putting the content, from a previous module, into a safe storage/backup location - zipping it up first will not only shrink the amount of space required, but will also allow you to put everything for that module into one file.

    How (Windows)?

    1. Select the file(s) that you want to zip

    2. Right-click on the selected files to open a context menu

    3. Choose Send to

    4. Choose Compressed (zipped) folder

    How (Apple Mac)?

    Here's how to zip a file on Mac with the Archive Utility:

    1. Find the file or files you want to zip (if you'd like to zip multiple files, it's easiest to put those files in the same folder).

    2. Right-click on the file or folder.

    3. Select Compress

    Now I have a ZIP of my files?

    Your file(s) will now be available (from the same location as the original files), but as a Zipped Archive folder. Your original unzipped files will still be sitting there.

    • This can be emailed to yourself; so long as it does not exceed any size limits set by your email provider.
    • It can be uploaded into your OneDrive for safe keeping.

    Unzipping a Zip Archive

    Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and 10: Right-click on the file and select Extract All

    Mac OS: See https://www.lifewire.com/how-to-zip-and-unzip-files-and-folders-on-a-mac-2260188

    Linux: You will usually have 7Zip installed - see https://www.howtoforge.com/tutorial/how-to-install-and-use-7zip-file-archiver-on-ubuntu-linux/ for an example of how to download and install the zZip package on Ubuntu. Zipping and unzipping can also be achieved through the command line.

    PROs:

    This is a very efficient way to store files that you do not need to access regularly.

    The zipped files/folders can easily be shared via OneDrive or email.

    CONs:

    In most circumstances you will need to unzip the files/folders to work on them and then create a new zip folder to re-store or re-share (potentially leaving your with multple similar zip files that you need to store, name and manage manually).

    If you share with others, you have no control over how those files are used or further shared and they might not be the latest versions.

    The version in your zip file will not update next time you make some edits - you will need to add any updated files back into the zip file each time.

  • Backup Strategies - Top Tips

    Whilst no system is perfect, the following Top Tips should help minimize any disasters that might affect your files.

    1. Backup Your Work - prior to the final push for completion of an assignment.

    2. Use the Cloud - wherever practical you should store your documents in the cloud. This is more secure than your own computer and can be accessed from almost anywhere. The university provides you with a 1tb Microsoft OneDrive to store everything relating to your studies.

    3. Store Backups Offsite - If you have made a hard-copy backup (i.e. on an external hard drive); then do not store this in the same house / building as the original. If a major disaster happens (fire, flood, burglary) - you stand to lose both copies of your files.

    4. Archive Old Files - If you have files and folders that you do not access often (or ever), but want to keep (photos, old coursework, notes, etc.) - you can Zip them up and store in the Cloud. You can always get them back, but they won't be cluttering up your computer and they will be safe from harm.

    5. Pendrives - These should only be used for temporary storage of backup files and NEVER used as the main (or only) location for your documents/files. Pendrives break and get lost easily - if this happens - your work is lost.

    6. CDs Are Great For Backups - But… You should always store them correctly (away from direct sunlight). Never keep them with your computer. If you have important files that you need to keep for a long time (i.e. photos, certificates, etc.) make sure that you buy "Gold" CDs - these are guaranteed for up to 100 years.

    7. The Rule of Three - In the computing industry; the advice is always to keep the Original, a Backup and a backup of the Backup. This might seem a step too far, but when disaster strikes - another copy wouldn't hurt.

    8. The Computer Ate My Homework - This is not a valid excuse for not getting an assignment in on time.

    • Organise your files and folders.
    • Use suitable naming conventions.
    • BACKUP YOUR WORK.

    9. Test Your Backup - Going back to your File Copy or Backup, to find it is corrupted (won't read) is a whole new disaster. When you have backed up some files - test those files to see that they can be opened.

    10. If In Doubt - Back It Up! - Storing a spare copy of your work will take up hardly any space, is quick and easy to do and may save you from a disaster.

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