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Research Data Management

Introductory information and links for deeper investigation on research data management topics. Guide 3 of a 3-part series.

Metadata for my Research Data

Metadata is documentation that describes data. It is data about your data. It describes the who, what, when, where, why and how of your research.

Why do I need metadata?

Humans forget things and others will need to understand the context of your data. Properly describing and documenting your research data allows others to find your data. Metadata also facilitates search and retrieval of the data when deposited in a data repository. opendatasoft. (2016). What is metadata and why is it as important as the data itself?


What kind of metadata should I use?

Standards-based metadata is generally preferable, if one works for your research or exists for your discipline. And review Dr. Stasser's Research Data Management: A Primer, Documenting Research Data (p. 7) for metadata guidelines and information.

General: Dublin Core | MODS
Social Science: DDI
Humanities: TEI | VRA
Sciences: Darwin Core | ITIS | EML | DIF | SEED | FGDC | ISO 19115 |

Use these resources to explore metadata standards:

Metadata and "readme" files

A readme file provides information about a data file and is intended to help ensure that the data can be correctly interpreted, by yourself at a later date or by others when sharing or publishing data. Standards-based metadata (from Cornell University) is generally preferable, but where no appropriate standard exists, for internal use, writing “readme” style metadata is an appropriate strategy.

See more at Cornell University's Guide to writing "readme" style metadata.

Things to Remember about a readme File:

  • A ReadMe is a plain text file. Any computer will be able to view it. No concerns about proprietary software.
  • Clear and descriptive file name which does not include special characters, spaces, or periods.
  • Includes the date the ReadMe was created or last updated.
  • Date formatted standard YYYYMMDD.
  • Provides title for the set of files the ReadMe describes.
  • Includes author names and contact information.
  • Identifies date of data collection.
  • Identifies license associated with data.
  • Links to publications that use the data.
  • Links to publicly accessible locations of the data.
  • Includes recommended citation for the data.
  • Includes a list of files, with a short description for each.
  • Includes links to tools used in data collection and processing processes.
  • Includes links to documentation of data collection and processing methodologies.

Attribution to the Research Data Management Librarian Academy (RDMLA).