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NSF Data Management Plan Help: What is Metadata?

Metadata Standards

Metadata Standards provide specific data fields or elements to be used in describing data for a particular use. Some research fields have predefined metadata standards, such as those listed below. For more disciplinary metadata standards and further information, visit the UK's Digital Curation Centre's Disciplinary Metadata page (


Metadata are often referred to as data about data. They are a subset of core data documentation, which provides standardized structured information explaining the purpose, origin, time references, geographic location, creator, access conditions and terms of use of a data collection. Metadata can include but is not limited to information such as: title, author, identifier, subject, funders, rights, access information, language, dates, location, methodology, data processing, sources, list of file names, file formats, file structure, variables, codes, and versions.[1]  Some classic examples of metadata are catalog records for books or directories with meaningful folder names and structures.

It is helpful to think about what metadata will be needed and how it will be documented before beginning research and data acquisition.  Well crafted metadata should enable potential users to find and “make full and accurate use of the data in a subsequent scientific analysis”.[2] If data will be moved around or deposited in a repository, .txt Read Me files should accompany the data. File folder heirarchical naming, or other documentation not directly tied to the data may not be suitable documentation.

If you are permanently storing your data with Princeton’s DataSpace, metadata will be entered upon submittal. Information about entering metadata into DataSpace is available at More or less metadata may be needed depending on the data and research field.

[1] “Metadata: Data Management and Publishing: Subject Guides: MIT Libraries.” Web. 10 May 2011.

[2] Sufi, S., and B. Mathews. CCLRC Scientific Metadata Model: Version 2. CCLRC, 2004. Print.