Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

CUNY LIBRARIES ARE OPEN both ONLINE and on campus! We are open online for reference & instruction. E-resources are fully available. CUNY Libraries physical spaces are also open for quiet study, computers and wifi, materials pickup, and more. Please note that library plans are subject to change based on the evolving pandemic situation and plans at each campus. At this time, due to the pandemic, campus access (including libraries) may be restricted to each campus’ current students, faculty and staff. Some libraries require reservations. Please check our College Libraries page for details about the library you plan to visit.

Support Students Impacted by Coronavirus Crisis Donate Now

Research Data Management: Documentation & Metadata

Documentation and Metadata

Data must be documented to be used properly by you, your colleagues, and other researchers in the future.  Data documentation (also known as metadata) enables one to understand your data in detail and will enable other researchers to find, use and properly cite your data. Researchers can choose among various metadata standards, often tailored to a particular file format or discipline.  One such standard is DDI (the Data Documentation Initiative), designed to document numeric data files.

Following are some general guidelines for aspects of your project and data that you should document, regardless of your discipline.  At minimum, store this documentation in a readme.txt file or the equivalent, together with the data. One can also reference a published article which may contain some of this information.

Title Name of the dataset or research project that produced it
Creator Names and addresses of the organization or people who created the data
Identifier Number used to identify the data, even if it is just an internal project reference number
Subject Keywords or phrases describing the subject or content of the data
Funders Organizations or agencies who funded the research
Rights Any known intellectual property rights held for the data
Access information Where and how your data can be accessed by other researchers
Language Language(s) of the intellectual content of the resource, when applicable
Dates Key dates associated with the data, including: project start and end date; release date; time period covered by the data; and other dates associated with the data lifespan, e.g., maintenance cycle, update schedule
Location Where the data relates to a physical location, record information about its spatial coverage
Methodology How the data was generated, including equipment or software used, experimental protocol, other things one might include in a lab notebook
Data processing Along the way, record any information on how the data has been altered or processed
Sources Citations to material for data derived from other sources, including details of where the source data is held and how it was accessed
List of file names List of all data files associated with the project, with their names and file extensions (e.g. 'NWPalaceTR.WRL', 'stone.mov')
File Formats Format(s) of the data, e.g. FITS, SPSS, HTML, JPEG, and any software required to read the data
File structure Organization of the data file(s) and the layout of the variables, when applicable
Variable list List of variables in the data files, when applicable
Code lists Explanation of codes or abbreviations used in either the file names or the variables in the data files (e.g. '999 indicates a missing value in the data')
Versions Date/time stamp for each file, and use a separate ID for each version (see file organization)
Checksums To test if your file has changed over time

Where does metadata go?

Your metadata can go in a variety of places:

  • In a text file ('README')
  • In a spreadsheet
  • In an XML file
  • In a database or repository (when you share the data)

This guide was developed by the CUNY Office of Library Services and is based on (and, in some cases, pulls from) guides created at the libraries at the CUNY Graduate Center, New York University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Massachusetts, University of Michigan, and Stanford University.