The general function of a social science data ­archive is to make machine-readable data available to scientists. Archives seek to work closely with data producers to obtain complete data and documentation. These files are then deposited in the archive, manipulated, documented, stored and finally distributed to the scientific community for further analysis. The goal is make it as easy as possible for secondary analysts to work with data they obtain from archives.

Many social science data archives, data collection organizations, and grant agencies have produced primers and guides which describe both the responsibilities of data producers and the role that data archives play in preparing data and making it accessible to the research community.  Some examples include: