To get the most out of REDCap, please refer to these helpful hints:
- Looking to track changes in your REDCap data and investigate potential data issues?
- Every action within a REDCap project is logged, including data changes, alerts and survey invites sent out, and even page views. By going to the Logging page (located in the left-hand column of a project), you can view logs sorted by event type, date range, record, and user. This is very useful for investigating data issues that come up, and logs are downloadable as .csv files, allowing you to provide sponsors with a full auditing log of your project.
- To see what data has been in a field, and what changes have been made over time, you can press the H button next to it to see the Field History. This means that any data saved in a field is recoverable, even if accidentally overwritten.
- The only time when you can clear out the logs is when you choose to Move project to production. When a project is moved to production, you will have the option to maintain or delete existing records and logs; make sure to think through whether you need to keep any of your data before doing this! Projects should always be moved to production after being thoroughly tested but before collecting real data – when you move a project to production, only test data should be in it.
- Wondering if you should use autonumbering or a custom format for your project’s Record ID’s? Here are some things to keep in mind:
- As the Record ID cannot be hidden from users of your REDCap project, you should make sure to never include PHI (such as a medical record number) in a custom record_id.
- The Additional Customizations section under Project Setup features several options that can augment your Record IDs, including a Custom Record Label and the option for a Secondary Unique Identifier, which can be used to assign study ID’s after the record is established.
- Once you’ve saved a record, never change the Record ID unless truly necessary. Doing so can break links and cause data auditing issues, so consider using a secondary identifier for any ID’s that may require being changed.
- If you are managing a project with many users, it is often a good idea to check the User Rights section to clean up those who no longer work on the project, and remove users whose accounts have been suspended due to leaving their institutions. You should always know who has access to your project, and removing old users still maintains auditing logs of their work.
- The Field Comment Log is an excellent way to mark data for review and resolve data issues within REDCap. To use it, simply click on the speech bubble symbol next to a field during data entry to leave a comment, or go to the Field Comment Log page in the left-hand column.
- As an alternative to field comments, under Additional Customizations in Project Setup, REDCap gives you the option to enable the Data Resolution Workflow, a powerful tool that allows users to flag data issues and track their resolution. While more complicated to use than field comments, it allows you to easily track what issues are open and respond to them directly.
- Interested in using REDCap to create a remote, paper-free consent process for your study? REDCap’s “E-Consent” functionality, available under “Survey Settings,” allows you to mark a survey as being a consent form. Once enabled, participants will be able to provide certain information, including a signature, and review the form it before submitting it. The consent form will then be archived with the participant’s information, version number, date, and IP address.
- Are you a PI or Manager supervising staff members who use REDCap? Please remember to check out the User Access Dashboard and Sponsor Dashboard on the My Projects page. Here, you can see who has access to your projects, request password resets, and request account extensions for external users (those not from Tufts CTSI partner institutions).
- Normally, when you request a REDCap account, the Sponsor is set to whomever is listed as PI. If you believe your sponsor was set erroneously, or would like to reassign users for whom you are the sponsor (for instance, delegating this role to a study manager), please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Interested in modifying the appearance of surveys, or making them information-only? REDCap now has the Survey UI Tweaks external module available for use:
- Features include Renaming Buttons, Randomizing Matrix Questions, and Measuring Survey Duration.
- Many customizations can be configured on a per-project or per-survey level for maximum flexibility.
- To activate this for your project, go to External Modules (located in the left-hand column), press View Available Modules, and then click Request Activation.
- For more details about how to use this module in your project check, please review these slides (PDF).
- The REDCap 9.5.5 upgrade brought many new features, including Missing Data Codes which let you indicate where data is absent, incomplete, or invalid; and Rich Text Editing, which allows you many more options for adjusting the look of questions and emails. If you would like to try these out, it’s always a best practice to create a test project (or a copy of an existing project) before implementing them on an in-production project.
- For an in-depth look at more features of the 9.5.5 upgrade, check out the full release notes and slideshow.
- As part of the REDCap 9.5.5 Upgrade in February 2020, Tufts CTSI has enabled the REDCap Mobile App, which is a platform for offline data collection on Android and iOS mobile devices. This is a free, specialized app for cases where data must be collected without internet access; it cannot administer REDCap surveys. Collected data is manually synchronized with the main database when an internet connection is present.
- For more details about the Mobile App, what it’s for, and how to use it, please read the guide here (PDF).
- Do you want to personalize your project for the study team as well as for the participants? You can add your study logo to the top of a project in addition to the participant surveys. Contact email@example.com and have a link to a banner image ready, and we will help you place the banner at the top of your entire project.
- Best Practice: Make sure to specify your project’s type under “Project Settings” on the “Project Setup” page. If it is a research study, make sure that the PI’s name and email are listed, as well as the IRB number. Ensuring the PI’s name and contact information are on the project will serve as proof of project and data ownership in case of staff turnover.
- Want to present different users with different options for a question, but still use a single variable for analysis? First, make multiple question fields with the same label but different responses. Set up branching logic to only show one of the fields at a time. Then, create a calculated field to be used as the variable for analysis, which you can set to be hidden with the @HIDDEN action tag. The calculated field can be made to equal the value of the question seen by the user with an “if” statement, which uses the syntax “if([variant_a_shown], [variant_a], [variant_b])”.
- Would you like to include instructional videos or add explanations to questions to enhance participant experience? REDCap supports embedded audio and video, with several different options for video under the “Descriptive” field type, as well as full support for the HTML <audio> tag in any field type, which allows you to play a recording with a question.
- REDCap now has two more External Modules available for use by investigators: StringUtils and Date Calculated Fields.
- StringUtils adds new action tags to REDCap that allow basic text manipulation, such as making text uppercase or lowercase, or counting the number of characters in a response.
- Date Calculated Fields must be activated by an administrator, but once active allows date fields to be instantly piped from one to another, regardless of date format, and allows investigators to add or subtract days in the process.
- For more details about these features and how to use them (including a recap of how External Modules work), check out these slides.
- Interested in using features that go beyond REDCap’s base functionality? Tufts CTSI has now enabled external modules in REDCap, which allow you to use features developed by other hospitals and universities in the REDCap consortium. Three modules, Sticky Matrix Headers, Field Notes Display, and QR Code Shortcut, have been enabled for all REDCap users. A fourth, Instant Field Concatenation, is available to be activated in your project on request. Read our slides (PDF) that introduce these external modules and the functionality they bring.
- Are you nervous about trying out certain features in your project after it was put in production? Create a copy of your project, adding “TEST” to the name, and try new features on the TEST version before repeating it in the real project. Always back up your project (both the data dictionary and the data itself) and discuss the consequences of a new feature before implementing it.
- Often, when dealing with repeating instruments, key values will stay the same each time the form or survey is filled out. To have a variable appear as its previous value automatically, you can set the Field Annotation to @DEFAULT=”[x][previous-instance]” for the variable “x”. You can then compare “[x][current-instance]” and “[x][previous-instance]” to see if there has been a change. You can use the same approach in longitudinal projects with defined events, where the syntax is “[previous-event-name][x]” and “[event-name][x]”.NOTE: when piping, event names always go before the variable name. The instance of a repeating instrument always comes after the variable name.
- Reports are highly customizable, and can be assigned to be visible to different project members. This can allow project members to quickly and easily see only the data in which they are interested.
- In the “User Rights” tab you can create roles with custom permissions, including permissions that are form-specific. If you have team members who should never be accessing a particular form, it is a best practice to hide it from them by adjusting their permissions.
- Do you want to warn users that they have entered an unexpected value in a way that isn’t covered by the built-in field validation options? You can create a descriptive field as a warning, explaining the issue and expectations and use branching logic to show it only when the parameters are true/false.
- You can choose to send an email to a participant thanking them for taking a survey. To set it up, access “Survey Settings” and personalize the “Survey Completed” message by using piping.
- Make your surveys stand out by making a custom theme in the “Survey Settings” page. You can save this theme and apply it to any of your surveys.
- You can use piping to allow subject-specific options in a multiple choice or dropdown field. Just use [variable] as the label for an option and it will automatically be piped in. If [variable] is empty the option will display as “____”, so try to make sure that [variable] is filled out before a subject sees this.
- Did you know you can use the action tags @HIDDEN-FORM, @HIDDEN-SURVEY, @READONLY-FORM, and @READONLY-SURVEY to present users with additional fields when viewed as a form as opposed to a survey? You can use these options to hide calculated fields in surveys while still using the value for piping or branching logic.
- Want research participants to complete surveys in different order, or even skip entire sections? Use the “Survey Queue” button on the Online Designer page. You can present participants with different pages based on their responses, or set up a “Front Page” survey that redirects to different instruments based on the responses.
- Do you want to apply formatting in your REDCap projects and survey forms? REDCap supports the use of HTML tags to format text in question labels and response lists. Examples of HTML tags in REDcap can be found here. More information about can be found on W3Schools.com. Some tags may not be supported by the current version of REDCap.
- Would you like to see the date and time a respondent took a survey before the report is run? Action tags will allow you to do that and more. The action tag @READONLY will make the field read-only, so its value cannot be changed. You can apply multiple action tags to the same variable. For example, you can make a field automatically capture today’s date and make that same field read-only so that your survey participants can’t change that value. To do that, use action tags @NOW @READONLY
Best Practice: Do not change variable names or values of categorical field types once you begin collecting real data.
- Need to save time developing data collections instruments or stay compliant with data collection standards? The REDCap Shared Library is a global repository of data collection instruments that can be downloaded and used in your REDCap projects. Navigate to the Shared Library and view any of the library’s instruments on the library web page or as a PDF. It will also allow you to import any instrument from the library into your REDCap project. To begin searching for instruments in the Shared Library, click the ‘Download’ button on the Online Designer page.
Best Practice: it is best to download instruments from the library every time you need it. Copying instruments or sharing the data dictionary may break important features of the instrument and cause it not to work properly.
- Worried about making a significant change to your instruments? You can save a snapshot of your current data dictionary by simply clicking the ‘Create snapshot of instruments’ button on the “Online designer” page. All snapshots can be accessed and downloaded at any time on the Project Revision History page. There is no limit to how many snapshots can be created. Creating a snapshot can be useful to allow you to revert all your fields back to a specific point in time, if desired, by taking the snapshot from the Revision History page and uploading it on the Data Dictionary Upload page.
Best Practice: Take a snapshot of the current data dictionary before committing the new data dictionary. This allows you to remain worry-free and your fields/forms will be preserved automatically, even in the case of an accident occurring (e.g., wrong data dictionary was uploaded).
- Want more data at your fingertips? The record status dashboard (a feature that allows you to get a quick, high-level overview of the current state of data entry in your records) can be customized. The custom dashboard allows you to choose header orientation, column grouping, instrument and event selection, and sort records based on values. You can create multiple dashboards on the project highlighting different aspects of your data.
- Ever wish you had an easier way to make a selection out of a long list of choices? You can now use the Auto-complete for Drop-down Fields feature which transforms a drop-down into a combo-box that functions as a normal drop-down list, but has the additional capability of employing a text search on the options in the drop-down. This will help you to find an option more quickly.
- Always keep a copy of your most recent data dictionary, and save the project and the data before making significant changes!
- Are all of your calculations up to date on your long-term project? Use the data quality tool to review and fix the incorrect values for calculated fields. The data quality tool is located on the left hand side on the applications panel and can evaluate for missing values and field validation errors, and can run any custom data quality check of your design.
- Need to personalize your survey to refer to someone by name, or use a previously provided answer in future questions? Use piping, a feature that allows you to add previously collected data into text on a survey.
- Does your survey response rate seem slow? Having a progress bar on survey pages can help boost survey response rate. REDCap’s default configuration doesn’t allow for creation of a progress bar, but you can add one using HTML. The following HMTL code can be copy/pasted into any section of REDCap that accepts HTML, and will provide a static progress bar based on the number of sections in the survey. We recommend you use a section header or a descriptive field for your progress bar. This tip was based on an idea by Luke Stevens of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia.The HTML is:<div style=”width:100%;border:0;margin:0;padding:0;background-color:#A9BAD1;text-align:center;”><div style=”width:66%;border: 0;margin:0;padding:0;background-color:#8491A2″><span style=”color:#8491A2″>.</span></div></div>”
- Running a collaborative project? To ensure data and information security, set up a Data Access Group (DAG). When the Data Access Group tool is in use, groups of users (DAGs) are blinded to the entire set of records, but can see records created by users within their group. DAGs can be created at any time, but it is best to do it before data collection begins.
- Once you begin data collection, moving your project to Production ensures you’re maintaining data accuracy and integrity. The post-production change control process provides an additional check to ensure that data that was already collected is not deleted, re-coded or overwritten unintentionally.
- Need to transfer data from paper surveys, charts, etc., and worry about data accuracy? You can request to activate a Double Data Entry feature before you begin your data collection. This feature designates two users per study and a reviewer. The reviewer has the ability to merge records created by both data entry users, after viewing differences and adjudicating those differences using the Data Comparison Tool. This creates a third, final record in the set.
- You can build surveys that use repetitive choices faster by using the ‘copy existing choices’ option. When building forms where you are using the same set of choices for different multiple choice fields, click on the ‘copy existing choices’ link (above the Choice dialogue box in the ‘Add New Field’ pop-up).
- When you perform a data quality check, you can exclude discrepancies to prevent them from displaying again. Click the ‘exclude’ link for a result in the table of discrepancies for a rule, and that result will not be counted next time in the number of discrepancies for that rule, nor will it be displayed in the table of results. Excluded results can be viewed again by clicking the ‘view’ link at the top of the results table for that rule. To remove the exclusion status, click the ‘remove exclusion’ link in the results table.
- When the project is in production mode and significant changes need to be made, it is wise to copy the project and make changes to the copy. This way, you can test all new branching logic or calculated fields without affecting the Production Project.
- When creating a project in development mode, it is a good idea to test your instruments by entering data into your forms. Once you have completed the project’s instruments, you can then move the project to Production status and have the option to delete all test data.
- Did you know you can turn a field label into a link? You can add link references to field labels using the following HTML tags: <a href=’URL’ target=’_blank’>field_name</a>.
- Did you know that annotation tags correspond to action that is performed for the field when it is displayed on the forms or data entry fields and not visible anywhere on the page? @HIDDEN annotation, when added to the field annotation table, hides the field to survey participants, but can be seen on the data export. The field will stay hidden regardless of the branching logic rules.
- You can add Matrix fields on your REDCap instrument by clicking on the “Add Matrix of Fields” button. This will allow you to create a field where users can enter data in a matrix form.
- If you are the project owner, you can lock records of your data so no one else can edit them.
- Did you know you can create a drop-down list using the data inside your projects using the Dynamic Query (SQL)? You can choose to add this field and click on “how to use this” for more information.
- REDCap allows some customization of form appearance using HTML code. These include font size, font color, and spacing/indentation of field label text.
- Section header fields follow branching logic for all fields until the next section header. To hide a section header, all fields until the next section header must also be hidden.
- You can track who has responded to your survey by using the Participant List option, and you can identify individual responses by using the Participant Identifier feature. These tools are found in the Manage Survey Participants section of your project.
- You can schedule to send your online survey on a specific date or based on certain conditions being met. For instructions, please refer to Automated Invitations in the Online Designer.
- If you add a calculated field after collecting the data used in the calculation, you will need to re-save the form containing the calculation. This will trigger REDCap to perform the calculation and populate the field.
- Using the “automated invitations” feature, you can schedule survey to be sent at a specific date and time, as well as based on a specific response to a previous form or survey.
- Use conditional logic in your database by using an “if/then” statement in calculated fields.
- You can use the logging tool to troubleshoot issues that arise due to a change in data value, calculations and branching logic that are no longer working, etc. In the log, filter by record, user, and event type.
- To export your data dictionary to a PDF file, follow these steps: Project Home; Codebook; Print Page; Change; Save as PDF.
- Did you know you can track discrepancies in your data via the Data Quality Module? You can also add custom rules in the module to track data population for specific fields.