Metadata is information about the context, content, quality, provenance, and/or accessibility of a set of data.


Metadata may be . . .

  • required for depositing a data set in disciplinary repositories or for publishing it in research journals
  • critical documentation for the longevity and reproducibility of research data
  • useful for visualizing or analyzing the data in data files

What are some examples of metadata?

Metadata can exist in a variety of different formats. Some of the most common ones are summarized in the table below.

Type of metadataExample of this type
A text or html document.Metadata includes authors, dates, location, etc. This metadata accompanies the dataset on Seasonal Frost Depths, Midwestern USA (1971-1981) that is archived in the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
An XML document linked to data files.Metadata includes authors, locations, dates, etc. This metadata is linked to a dataset of locations in Northeastern Illinois, Northwestern Indiana, and Southeastern Wisconsin where alternative vehicle fuels are available. This data was collected by the City of Chicago and is provided on
(Note: you may need to select “View page source” in your browser to see the XML format.)
Information embedded in an XML data file.Metadata includes authors, dates, organism, publication, instrument, etc. It is kept within the X-ray diffraction data file for UDP-galactopyranose mutase in the Protein Data Bank repository.
(Note: you may need to select “View page source” in your browser to see the XML format.)
Follows the PDBML (Protein Data Bank Markup Language) specification.

What metadata help is available?

A data specialist from one of the following groups may be able to help you find, adapt, and use an appropriate metadata standard.

A sample of the Ecology Metadata Language (EML) standard
A sample of the Ecology Metadata Language (EML) standard

What metadata should I use?

Metadata standards specify what pieces of information are included and how they are expressed in digital files. Some are generic enough to be useful across a wide array of disciplines, while others are highly specific to disciplinary areas. You may select a metadata standard based on the discipline that you’re working in, or the type of data that you’re working with.

We cannot provide a comprehensive list here. Instead, we include examples in broad disciplinary areas, plus a “general” category. Where possible, we selected examples that appear to have broad adoption within or across disciplinary areas.

Disciplinary areaMetadata standardDescription
General Dublin CoreWidely used in disciplinary and institutional repositories.
Disciplinary Metadata from the DCCSearchable list of disciplinary metadata standards and related information. Includes biology, Earth science, physical science, social science & humanities and general research data.
Altova Schema libraryA reference library to common (and uncommon) industry and cross-industry schemas.
Life Sciences Darwin CoreDesigned to facilitate the sharing of information about biological diversity. It is primarily based on taxa, their occurrence in nature as documented by observations, specimens, and samples and related information.
EML (Ecology Metadata Language)Maintained by the Ecological Society of America. Consists of XML modules that can be used to document ecological datasets.
Humanities Seeing Standards: A Visualization of the Metadata UniverseInformation on 105 cultural heritage metadata standards.
TEI (Text Encoding Initiative)A widely-used standard for representing textual materials in XML.
VRA (Visual Resources Association) Core A metadata standard for works of visual culture and the images that document them.
Social SciencesDDI (Data Documentation Initiative)A metadata specification for the social and behavioral sciences was created by the Data Documentation Initiative, and is used to document data through its lifecycle and to enhance dataset interoperability.