Data documentation provides descriptive information about a data set and ensures its future use by you and others. Metadata is one way to document your data. Metadata and documentation should:
What to document?
It is important to begin to document your data at the very beginning of your research project and continue throughout the project. By doing so will make data documentation easier and reduce the likelihood that you will forget aspects of your data later in the research project. Don’t wait until the end to start to document your research project and its data.
Research Project Documentation:
How to document?
A readme file provides information about a data file to help ensure that the data can be correctly interpreted, by yourself at a later date or by others when sharing or publishing data. Standards-based metadata is generally preferable, but where no appropriate standard exists, for internal use, writing “readme” style metadata is an appropriate strategy.
Want a readme file template? Cornell University provides a readme file template to help you get started. Feel free to adapt this template to meet your needs.
What is metadata?
Metadata is data about your data.
What metadata schema should I use?
Many disciplines have metadata schemas designed specifically for their types of data. Funders may require the data that you will share to use a specific schema. Repositories may require that all data submitted to them for deposit use a specific standard (a standard identifies the required schema). It is best practice to choose a repository early in a project so you can identify which standard you will be required to use.
A more comprehensive list of metadata standards and schemas is provided by the UK Digital Curation Center.