Writing Good Metadata

To create quality metadata, it is essential to include all the descriptive information necessary to locate, understand, and use a data set. You can save time and resources by leveraging the work and tools developed by others. Write your metadata in a standard fashion and adhere to the following rules and considerations (based on excerpts from the NOAA Coastal Services Metadata Workshop Materials).

  • Write simply, completely, and consistently. This will help general audiences understand your metadata and, therefore, help them understand your data set. This will also enhance the automatic search capabilities, which in turn will attract a wider audience for your data. You need to use the same labels (names) for your metadata elements every time they are used, and the same format for your metadata (such as comma delimited text). Your metadata descriptions need to be internally consistent and, ideally, consistent with descriptions produced by other organizations in a similar discipline.
  • Use controlled vocabularies. Controlled vocabularies help limit the terms. For example, consider data coming from research vessels. If one participant on the cruise enters the vessel name as RV Revelle, another as Roger Revelle, and another as R/V Revelle, there will be no way for someone searching the metadata later to easily find all the data coming from this vessel. A controlled vocabulary that specifies the format of the vessel name, as well as other terms that can be predicted in advance, will ensure standardization. There are many recognized vocabularies within the marine domain, and by using terms from these vocabularies, you will create metadata that is consistent not just within your dataset, but across other datasets.
  • Provide an appropriate descriptive title for your dataset. A descriptive title of the contents is important for those trying to decide whether or not to explore the actual data set. You might consider a title that summarizes important features of your data, answering “what, where, when, and who” questions about your data. Scale, location, and date are important factors to consider in your title information, e.g., “California bathymetry data 0 –200 m, 10m contours, 2004.”
  • Clearly state data limitations. Limitations of your data set are very important for establishing the relevance and usage potential of your data set. A common example is “not to be used for navigation purposes.”
  • Choose unambiguous, descriptive keywords. Some metadata standards have a specific element to hold keywords—terms on which a user can search in a metadata registry or repository. They are essential for users trying to locate your data, so they should be chosen with care and be drawn from suggested keyword lists when available.
  • Avoid using special characters. Don’t use printing or non-printing characters that might be misinterpreted by a computer. Printing characters include !, @, <, >, (, ), while non-printing characters include tabs and carriage returns. This will help make your metadata machine-readable.
  • Review your metadata for accuracy and completeness. Have a second look at your metadata and have someone else take a look at it as well. When reviewing your metadata, ask the following questions:
    • Could someone use an automatic search to locate this data set?
    • Could they assess its usefulness?
    • Do your metadata include enough specific information to uniquely identify and locate any geospatial data based solely on your documentation?
    • Can a novice understand what you wrote?
    • Does the documentation adequately present all the information needed to use or reuse the data represented?
    • Are any pieces of information missing, such as projection information, source citations, and process steps?
    • Are your key words descriptive enough to help other people find your data set?
    • Have you used enough broad terms? Have you used enough narrow terms?

Suggested Citation

Isenor, A., Bermudez, L., Watson, S. 2010. "Writing Good Metadata." In The MMI Guides: Navigating the World of Marine Metadata. http://marinemetadata.org/guides/mdataintro/writegoodmdata. Accessed December 12, 2019.