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Research Data Management: Metadata and Data Documentation

What is Metadata?

Metadata is data about data. Knowing this information makes it easier to identify certain parts of the data. E.g. Author, date created and date modified and file size are examples of very basic document metadata. Having this particular set of information makes it easier to locate specific documents. To encourage the reuse and preservation of digital objects, metadata schemas have been developed and put in place to support the different types of metadata.

Aston University's Research Data Management Policy states in regards to metadata:

Aston Data Explorer (based on e-prints should be used for recording the metadata associated with Research Data and linking this to publications. Data should be stored in a secure data repository suited to the data concerned. Aston provides a data archiving solution (Arkivum) linked to Aston Data Explorer. Any data which is retained outside Aston, for example in an international data service or domain repository, should be registered with the University by including the associated metadata and a link in e-prints.

Research funders require researchers to make their metadata open and freely available to the public, complicated datasets should be described to allow reuse and accessibility. For example, the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Science Research Council) have outlined what they deem to be appropriate in regards to the creation of metadata

Data Documentation

Key elements of metadata:

• Title
• Date
• Subject descriptors
• Creator(s) (Creator of the dataset; main researchers involved)
• Funders
• File format
• Storage location of the data (including identifier information)
• Origin of the data (creation/acquisition of the data)
• Time references for the data (key dates associated with the data: start, end, release, etc.)
• Access conditions
• Terms of use of the data

E.g. Below are some expectations EPSRC have in relation to the creation of metadata

  1. Research organisations will ensure that appropriately structured metadatadescribing the research data they hold is published (normally within 12 months of the data being generated) and made freely accessible on the internet; in each case the metadata must be sufficient to allow others to understand what research data exists, why, when and how it was generated, and how to access it. Where the research data referred to in the metadata is a digital object it is expected that the metadata will include use of a robust digital object identifier.
  2. Where access to the data is restricted the published metadata should also give the reason and summarise the conditions which must be satisfied for access to be granted. For example ‘commercially confidential’ data, in which a business organisation has a legitimate interest, might be made available to others subject to a suitable legally enforceable non-disclosure agreement.

For more information on metadata documentation and standards, see UK Data Archive.

Below are some subject specific metadata standards, the metadata standards you decide to adopt will depend on funder requirements and which discipline your research is conducted through.


Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI)


ISO 19115:2003 – Geographic information metadata

Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata (CSDGM)


Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)

Visual Resources Association Core (VRA)

Public Sector:

e-Government Metadata Standard (eGMS)

Managing and Exchanging Research Data:


Social Science:

Data Documentation Initiative (DDI)


Following the FAIR data principles will ensure that once your data has been shared, its use is maximised. See here for further information on FAIR data