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Research Data Management: Documentation and Metadata

This guide provides information about managing research data in any discipline.


If possible, document data characteristics and workflows in a digital format at the time that data files are created or altered.

  • Create readme files and data dictionaries to provide digital documentation of data characteristics, workflows, progress, results, software, etc.
  • Document any database data field (variable/column) characteristics for later interpretation.  Possible elements are field name, field description, and permitted range of values.
  • Document data file and collection characteristics that are relevant for later interpretation.  Possible elements are file name and path, relevant dates, creation method, and status.
  • Digitize (scan) relevant paper laboratory or field notes so that they can be more easily shared along with the data.


Data Dictionaries

Create a data dictionary
DataONE's data dictionary best practice guide

Data Dictionaries (video)
Explanation of data dictionaries from a librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Electronic Lab Notebooks

A free electronic lab notebook

Readme Files

Guite to writing 'readme' files
Cornell University's guide to capturing key information about data in a simple text file; includes a template


Data files are more easily and accurately interpreted when they are documented using a formal, standardized metadata format. 

  • Develop strategies for streamlining the metadata data entry process, such as through the use of templates to input information that is consistent across all project metadata.
  • Store the metadata file close to the data (or embedded if possible) to ensure discovery.


Metadata Standards

Disciplinary Metadata
The Digital Curation Centre's guide to metadata standards listed by subject area

Geospatial Metadata Resources
The OpenGeoportal guide to metadata tools, standards, and information for geospatial data

RDA Metadata Directory
The Research Data Alliance (RDA) list of standards by broad discipline category

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