Introduction to Metadata

The most common definition of metadata is that metadata are data about data. Metadata describe the who, what, when, where and how of a resource. Implicit in this definition is the purpose of metadata: to attach information to data, so they can be discovered and used. See the guide, Definition of Metadata for a more detailed description of this term.

In today’s research environment, creation of metadata is becoming a requirement for practical use of research observations and results. You need metadata if you want to

  • Find data from other researchers to support your research.
  • Use the data that you do find.
  • Help other professionals to find and use data from your research.
  • Use your own data in the future when you may have forgotten details of the research.

So whether you are retrieving or distributing data, understanding the principles and practice of metadata works to your benefit.

In this section you will learn basic metadata concepts and approaches. Definition of Metadata, plus the lower-level guides on Metadata Classifications and Types of Vocabularies, are where commonly used terms are defined.

The next three sections—The Importance of Metadata, Metadata Interoperability, and Machine Readability—describe rationales for metadata.

Getting Started with Metadata is where you start laying out the steps to develop and implement metadata for your project. Writing Good Metadata provides a quick checklist of characteristics that your metadata should have. And finally, Some Examples of Metadata connects to real-world examples of completed metadata.

In the later sections of the guides, metadata standards and specifications are explored, as well as controlled vocabularies. Controlled vocabularies, which include thesauri, gazetteers, and ontologies, are critical tools for creating interoperability between—and standardization within—datasets.

Suggested Citation

Neiswender, C. 2010. "Introduction to Metadata." In The MMI Guides: Navigating the World of Marine Metadata. Accessed March 6, 2021.