Metadata facilitates and supports the discovery, identification, organisation and interoperability of research outputs. Having rich metadata will help maximise exposure, reuse and citation of your research findings.
What is metadata?
Metadata can be information about an object or resource that describes characteristics such as content, quality, format, location and contact information. It can describe physical items as well as digital items (documents, audio-visual files, images, datasets) and can take forms ranging from free text (such as read-me files) to standardised, structured, machine-readable content.
What are the benefits of standard metadata?
The existence of comprehensive, standard machine-readable metadata helps data satisfy the FAIR data principles:
- Findable — metadata and data should be easy to find for both humans and computers
- Accessible — users need to know how the data can be accessed and what authentication/authority is needed
- Interoperable — data and metadata should use standards so it can interoperate with other data and information
- Reusable — reuse is the ultimate goal of FAIR and requires well-described contextual metadata and data, so that it can be reused and/or combined in different settings.
Types of metadata
Metadata elements can describe a single item or a collection, and can serve different purposes. Using a photo as an example, the metadata could typically include:
- descriptive metadata, such as the photographer, location, subject, date and time
- technical metadata, such as the type of camera used to take the photograph, the file format, the exposure time and the photo’s dimensions
- access and rights metadata
- preservation metadata
- provenance metadata, including the source of the photo and any changes to its ownership.
Where does metadata come from?
Metadata can be created manually by people or automatically by instruments or computers. Capturing metadata is easiest if it is automatically generated when the data is created, such as a camera capturing metadata when you take a photo.
Where is metadata stored?
Metadata can be stored in local systems with the originating data, or in metadata stores.
Any metadata that enables research data to be discovered and accessed should be published in discipline or institutional portals, where it can then be aggregated by Research Data Australia.
Visit Research Data Australia.
The power of rich metadata: a case study
A case study about the Two Rocks marine research project is a great example of the impact of well-described metadata. Its rich data has been extremely successful in making research data collections discoverable, citable, reusable and accessible for the long term.
Located in the CSIRO Data Access Portal, this resource contains 35 metadata fields which enable other researchers to quickly and accurately assess the relevance of this dataset to their research. The metadata record and the data are closely linked through co-location on the same landing page. The files tab contains additional metadata about each of the 17 files within the collection: file format, date last modified, and file size.
Any metadata that enables research data to be discovered and accessed should be published in discipline or institutional portals, and aggregated by Research Data Australia (RDA), Australia’s aggregated research data catalogue. Having rich metadata allows records to be syndicated to other data catalogues, just like the Two-Rocks mooring data records which is syndicated to RDA.
Your metadata toolkit
We’ve put together a list of handy guides and tools to help you stay up to date on best practices for using metadata.
- ARDC’s Metadata Guide
- ARDC’s Vocabularies and Research Data Guide
- FAIRsharing – a curated resource on data and metadata standards
- Defining a data collection
- Storing metadata
- Research Data Australia Content Providers Guide
- Citation and identifiers
- Geospatial data and metadata
- Research Data Alliance
- Metadata Directory