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Research Data Management

This guide is designed to support research data management by providing guidance on good practices and pointing to additional resources.

Metadata Standards for Data

Metadata is structured information about an object, like a dataset, and has value to both the original creator and other users. Complete metadata allows researchers to locate data they created and recall the circumstances and context under which they created and analyzed the data. It allows researchers outside of the original research team to:

Metadata for data typically includes information about the researchers involved with the data creation, a name or title of the data set, dates associated with the creation of the data, a brief description or abstract, and terms and conditions associated with the dataset. There are a variety of metadata standards that are used for data description, including discipline-specific schema (for example, biology standards Darwin Core and Ecological Metadata Language) and discipline-neutral schema (for example, DataCite).

NCSU Libraries has put together a set of baseline metadata elements that could be used to describe data. NCSU usefully recommends that "[a]t a minimum, metadata records should be kept in a fielded form, such as a spreadsheet, CSV file, or tab-delimited file. Auxiliary information necessary to interpret the metadata - such as explanations of codes, abbreviations, or algorithms used - should be included as accompanying documentation."

A table that includes a set of metadata fields for data. The fields include title, creator, dates, funding agencies, keywords, identifiers, geographic coverage, access restrictions, copyright, file formats, and list and count of files.

Data Documentation

README Files

In the context of research data, a readme file is a plain text file (.txt) or a sheet in a spreadsheet that helps others understand your data and interconnections among data files. By titling the file "readme," the date creator messagers to users that this file should be looked at first. For researchers depositing data in Knowledge@UChicago or a data repository, the information in the readme file may augment information included in the metadata form and, if the deposit includes multiple files, may explain the file naming structure, relationship among the files, and abbreviations used.

Cornell University's Research Data Management Service Group has made a useful readme file template available for download. At a minimum, the Cornell group recommends completing the following sections in the readme file template:

General information

  • Data set title

  • Name and contact information for investigators

  • Date (or date range) of data collection

  • Geographic location of data collection

Data and file overview

  • A short description of each file

  • Date that the file was created

Methodological information

  • Description of methods for data collection

  • Description of methods for data processing

Data specific-information