Metadata Best Practices-Data Management Services - Carnegie Mellon University

Metadata Best Practices

Metadata helps document your data, allowing users to understand what the data is, how it was created, who created it, and how it may be used. Metadata standards differ among research domains and data types. At the very least, best practices recommend a minimal set of metadata with your datasets.

Why Create Metadata?

Metadata provides a description of your datasets, contact information for responsible parties, and information about terms of use. All of these pieces of information are typically provided by data producers when sharing data with collaborators and metadata can help formalize this information and link it to your datasets. Metadata may also be required by your funding agency when preparing data for sharing or preservation. It is considered best practice to at least provide a minimal set of metadata for your data products . 

What Type of Metadata?

Metadata standards have proliferated over the past few decades alongside the proliferation of digital datasets. The number of standards for metadata is now so large and varied that it is not possible to adequately answer the question, "What Type of Metadata?" without understanding the specifics of the data objects in question, the parameters for sharing, and the venue from which the data will be shared. Many research domains, research data repositories, and funding agencies have specific requirements for metadata and data documentation. That said, basic elements that most researchers consider "must-haves" for data documentation have been formalized as elements of most metadata standards.

The DMSG recommends, at a minimum, using the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set to create metadata for your datasets and data collections. In addition, the DMSG would be happy to work with individual researchers or research groups to identify metadata schema that may meet more specific documentation needs of particular data types.  For more information, contact

Ana Van Gulick
Postdoctoral Fellow, Data Curation for the Sciences and Social Sciences