What are data standards?

Data standards are the rules by which data are described and recorded. In order to share, exchange, understand and use data, it is necessary to standardise the format as well as the meaning1. Data standards support data interoperability, processing and management, and are a key component of FAIR.

Some standards (such as units of measurement) are of importance to many research domains, while other standards are domain-specific.  And while some standards go through rigorous formal processes (such as ISO or W3C), others are more like conventions that are developed, agreed and adopted by a research community.

A research community may create a profile of a standard in order to better meet their needs. For example, they may develop a subset of a standard, or an extension to a standard.  This enables a research community to maintain interoperability with the core of the standard, while also allowing for what may be specific to that community.

Why use community-endorsed data standards?

Research communities use data standards for efficient data exchange and reuse within Australia and internationally.  By using common approaches to share information, others understand data as it was meant to be understood, without first needing to reformat the data.

ARDC recommends reuse of existing community-endorsed data standards.  If you are developing a data model from scratch, check if those that already exist will meet your needs, and get in touch with a maintainer if you want to help with development.

If you are using a generic spreadsheet to capture tabular data, consider using controlled terminology within cells, with a reference to the terminology source included in the column header.  Similarly, if you are using a non-standard data format, reference the software that can be run to transform it into a community-endorsed data standard.

Where to find community-endorsed data standards

If you want to find community-endorsed data standards search for sources of information representing high levels of expertise and formal processes.  Well established facilities, research centres, and professional associations reflect community endorsed data standards. Also directories of standards help in searching across domains.

The following are some examples.

Search through facilities
Search through professional associations
Consult standards directories

ERIC provides a directory of European research infrastructures in domains including social sciences, arts and humanities, marine biology, clinical research, bio-imaging, astronomy and biodiversity.  These infrastructures may include working groups that provide guidance on domain data standards.  For example, in the social sciences, CESSDA has a training group that maintains a Data Management Expert Guide for FAIR data.

For example the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) comprises representatives from many geoscience agencies across the world and encourages international cooperation.  The IUGS oversees the Commission for the Management and Application of Geoscience Information (CGI).  CGI develops data models and oversees the Geoscience Terminology Working Group (GTWG), which develops vocabularies.

GeoSciML and EarthResourceML are international data transfer standards for geological and mineral resources data, developed by the CGI, and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC).

FAIRsharing.org provides a searchable directory of standards across domains.  This includes collections of standards organised by domain. Search results may be filtered to display those that are selected or endorsed by data policies from journals, funders or other organisations.

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