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What is metadata?

In the context of research data management, metadata is data describing your dataset(s). Metadata is usually structured using recognised standards or schemas and may include:

  • Author(s)
  • Title
  • Date(s)
  • Location
  • Abstract/Summary
  • Keywords (user-defined or from a controlled vocabulary which should be clearly identified if used)
  • Other discipline-specific data elements

Administrative metadata can also be used to better manage your data, and may include:

  • Creation dates
  • Modification dates
  • File formats used
  • Access restrictions

The metadata you need to collect and store will depend on the anticipated needs of your intended audience, as well as the destination of your data after the completion of the project.

Where will the metadata be located?

Metadata can be stored within the data object itself (e.g. in the file properties), or in an external system or database that describes the dataset. Some metadata stored within the object such as the date of creation/modification are often generated automatically (e.g. photograph metadata). This metadata travels with the file whenever it is moved from one location to another and is useful for searching within the environment of your personal computer, but it can be difficult or impossible to extract so it doesn’t integrate well with external systems.

Metadata stored in a public database (e.g. OPAL) is generally more useful and can be included alongside the dataset, or stand-alone. If metadata is shared without the full dataset, instructions should be included on how to request mediated access the full data:

  • Who to contact to make the decision (an individual or committee)
  • Optional: Whether the full raw data or a de-identified / redacted dataset would be provided
  • Optional: Under what circumstances the requested data would be shared

Excellent metadata examples