Metadata is ‘data about data’, i.e., all information that is required to interpret, understand, and (re)use your dataset. You can make your data user-friendly by describing metadata.
Metadata at the level of a research project describes general information, that helps to interpret the various data files. FAIR tools and online data repositories will also ask you to add metadata. It is advisable to add extra files to your file structure that contain the human and machine-readable version of information about your data (the metadata). This makes your data self-describing. Tools such as GitLab provide an alternative infrastructure with a similar function.
Things to document include:
Collecting metadata will help:
Important considerations for metadata are:
There are many minimal metadata standards, for many different kinds of data. Often, such standards are made for specific kinds of experiments, by a community of experts on that type of experiment. Many minimal metadata standards can be found on FAIRsharing.org. Consider collecting more than the minimum (i.e., more than you need for your own research) if it improves the value of your data for later reuse, including optional fields in the minimal metadata standard). The MIT Libraries' guidelines on documentation and metadata include a useful list of documentation that you should include.
You should use a standardised protocol for data collection for reproducibility and in order to allow others to reuse your data in the future. This ensures that follow-up studies will have a homogeneous dataset. You will probably also need to record parameters that may seem irrelevant to your own study.
Metadata and data should be stored close to each other to make sure that the association between the two is clear. However, this is not always sufficient. Especially when file names are used to couple data and metadata, human errors can dissociate the two. Some data formats allow the metadata to be stored in the same file as the data itself.
Use the Toolbox to find support on metadata collection at your UMC.