Metadata are a way to describe data in a structured and standardized way. Ideally, for describing (research) data, standardized metadata terminology is used. Typical metadata fields for describing a book are: author, edition, year of publication, publisher. Part of the typical metadata of a file are file name, access rights, and date of the latest changes.
Generic research data standards such as Dublin Core can be applied to nearly all types of data, but they have less expressive power than a discipline-specific standard.
Up-to-date lists of discipline-specific metadata standards can be found on the following sites:
- Fairsharing.org maintained by the University of Oxford e-Research Centre.
- The Disciplinary Metadata Catalogue by the Digital Curation Centre (DCC) maintains a list of standards alongside with application profiles, use cases, and tools.
- The Metadata Directory initiated by the Metadata Standards Directory Working Group of the Research Data Alliance (RDA) is community driven version of the DCC catalogue and provides more functionalities and possibilities for contributions.
Because metadata can be used to configure the access point to the data, they are also the key to data findability, access and reuse. Making research data FAIR is not only a benefit to the research community.
Making research data FAIR also adds to the scientific merit of researchers when their data are being reused and cited.
Besides that, proper data documentation is essential for exchanging research data with colleagues or in the community, and even for understanding ones own research data after months or years.
If you need more information on the what, why and how of metadata, you might find the ANDS metadata guide helpful.