Data Management

What is metadata?

What is metadata? It is information about data that serves as a surrogate record for your dataset. Good metadata enables you to identify, find, and share your data with others. It should answer basic questions like:

  • Who created the data?
  • What does the data contain?
  • When was the data generated?
  • Where was the data generated?
  • Why was the data was generated?
  • How was the data generated?

An example of metadata would be a library catalog record. By including information such as the author, title, publication year, and call number, it makes it possible for you to find the item that you want.

A picture of a book and its corresponding catalog record.

Metadata standards

There are many metadata standards available you might consider using for your data. It is a good idea to use a standard because it facilitates easier discovery of your data. Additionally, many repositories will require you provide standard metadata when depositing your work. Some commonly used standards are:

Dublin Core: a general purpose metadata standard for describing networked resources
Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS): a bibliographic element set that may be used for a variety of purposes, and particularly for library applications. Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard (METS) is a useful variation of MODS
Federal Geographic Data Committee's standard (FGDC): an international ISO standard for describing geospatial data
Encoded Archival Description (EAD): a standard for the encoding of finding aids for use in a networked environment
Data Documentation Initiative standard (DDI): an international XML-based standard for the content, presentation, transport, and preservation of documentation (i.e., metadata) for data sets in the social and behavioral sciences

Metadata standard descriptions were borrowed from Stanford University Data Management Services guide. Please view their guide for more details on best practices for creating metadata. For additional assistance in selecting appropriate metadata standards for your research contact our Digital Initiatives Librarian.

Metadata example

Still not quite sure where to start? The University of Minnesota has created a template for a Readme file. Use this form as a guideline and include your finished readme text file with your data wherever you deposit it.