Metadata is data about data. Documentation about your data should be created and maintained to ensure it can be understood by those not involved in the project in the future. Consider what information you would need to understand a dataset if you accessed it in 10 years time.

The UK Data Archive states that metadata are a subset of core data documentation, which provides standardised structured information explaining the

  • purpose,
  • origin,
  • time references,
  • geographic location,
  • creator,
  • access conditions; and
  • terms of use of a data collection.

There is no single schema defining what metadata elements should be collected to describe research data or how they should be recorded. The Digital Curation Centre provides a useful resource, listing the various types of disciplinary metadata. The identification of appropriate metadata standards should be done during the data management planning stage.

Currently within research metadata is a significant and developing area with standards such as Common European Research Information Format (CERIF), the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) and the Data Documentation Initiative (DDI) used. These standards (and many others) enable sharing, access, interpretation and re-use of research data.

Research funder requirements now demand researchers create and make metadata openly available, notably to describe complex datasets, and thus facilitate access and re-use.

Good Metadata and documentation ensures it can:

  • be discoverable
  • be preserved for future use
  • be verifiable
  • can be re used
  • can be accessed for years to come
  • help others understand the data

When should I create my metadata?

The best practice is to decide on the format of your metadata at the start of your project and then begin to document your data and then continue to add more information into the document as your research continues. As well as keeping the information up to date you should make sure that where possible it is kept in the same location as the data.

For some types of data, it may be possible to record this information directly in the data file, i.e Microsoft Office files allows you to save some metadata in the file properties section.

What metadata do I need to create?

In order to decide on what metadata you need to create, you will need to think about what information would be needed in ten or twenty years’ time to understand and use the data.

Listed below are some useful information that might need to be collected (but not limited to):

  • Title
  • Date
  • Author(s)
  • Format
  • File name/path
  • Storage location/URL/Identifier
  • Subject
  • Funders
  • Rights
  • Access Information
  • Language
  • Keywords
  • Methodology

The metadata could simply be kept in a readme file, or as recommended by the different standards be saved in XML or other machine-readable formats which will allow for easy integration within systems.

If the area of your research doesn’t have an established metadata standard or you need a simpler system, then be aware that there are commonly five basic types of metadata elements which are addressed by most of the standards available. These are:

  • Descriptive
  • Technical/structural
  • Administrative
  • Use
  • Preservation.

For more Information regarding metadata elements please have a look at the DCC website.

*Before you start outlining the metadata plan for your project please check with any repositories that you will be using to deposit your data to see what standard they use and require.

Additional Resources

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