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Ekstrom Library

Data Management

What is Metadata?

Metadata is data about data.

  • Metadata is structured information provided to describe your data so that it is easier to find, use, and share with others
  • Plan for metadata early in the process as it makes your data more accessible to others and easier for personal reference purposes
  • Data repositories may require compliance with certain metadata schema/standards before data can be deposited.

Basic Metadata Elements

These are some basic metadata elements to use to document your data regardless of discipline. Please refer to some of the links under Resources for a detailed description of the elements.

  • Title
  • Creators (Principal Investigators)
  • Date(s) created
  • Identifier
  • Subject
  • Funding agency or grant
  • File format
  • Type of Resource
  • Access information

Types of Metadata

There are three types of metadata described by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) in their guide Understanding Metadata:

Descriptive metadata elements are used to describe the content and context of your data, such as title, author, and date created.

Structural metadata elements convey physical structure of the data. For datasets, examples would include table of contents, pages of data, the codebook, tables, and their relation to one another.

Adminstrative metadata elements provide managerial information about your data. These can include elements such as how the data was created (e.g. survey, SPSS analysis) who can access it, and any intellectual property information.


Include a readme.txt file in your folders that include: 

  • Context – include contact information, date and location of data collection, and licensing information
  • Abstract – why the data has been collected and for what purpose
  • Content – a list of the files in your data package and a brief description of what each file is
  • Basic Data Dictionary – provide a list of the variables included in the file and a description of what each variable is

You may also need to include a data dictionary that explains your abbreviations and units for your data. 

Metadata Schemas and Standards