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Research Data Services at UK: Describe

Resources and information to help you get started with data management, data preservation, and data sharing


DESCRIBE On this page, you'll find recommendations for describing your data using metadata best practices.

What is Metadata?

Metadata is structured information that describes, explains, locates, or otherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use, or manage data. Metadata is key to ensuring that data will survive and continue to be accessible in the future. Typically, it is helpful to use a defined metadata standard to describe your research.

A few popular standards can be found on this page, but there may be others that are more specific to your research.

Some basic metadata elements include:

  • Title
  • Creator (Principle Investigators)
  • Data created
  • Format
  • Subject
  • Unique identifier
  • Description of the data asset
  • Coverage of the data (spatial or temporal)
  • Publishing organization
  • Rights
  • Funding agency

"Readme" Creation Guidelines

A "readme" file is a single data file that describes your data and its technical, interpretive, and analytical requirements. It's a form of documentation, usually a simple text file, that serves as a guide to your data. Readme files are considered a general best-practice measure for data management.

Guidelines for writing readme style metadata

This guide was created by Wendy Kozlowski at Cornell University.

Metadata Standards

Darwin Core

The Darwin Core is body of standards intended to facilitate the sharing of information about biological diversity.

Data Documentation Initiative (DDI)

The Data Documentation Initiative (DDI) is an international standard for describing statistical and social science data.

Dublin Core (DC)

The DC is a simple, easy to use vocabulary of fifteen properties for use in resource description.

Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC)

The FGDC is the content standard for digital geospatial metadata.

Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS)

The ITIS is the authoritative taxonomic information on plants, animals, fungi, and microbes of North America and the world.

Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)

The TEI is a standard for the representation of texts in digital form.

Visual Resources Association Core (VRA)

The VRA Core is a standard for the description of works of visual culture and the images that document them.