The Importance of Metadata Standards

Metadata Standards are sets of topic-specific norms and definitions that guide the collection and documentation of metadata so that the result has consistent collection criteria, nomenclature, and structure. This consistency defines formal metadata. Creation of formal metadata through adherence to standards is essential for sharing data, for data management within the project, and for future funding.

Formal metadata standards enable interoperability among similarly formatted databases on local and global scales, greatly enhancing the reach of scientific research through data sharing. In order for data to be fully interoperable, consistent ontologies must be used throughout data sets—metadata should use the same terms for describing a particular type of scientific inquiry, natural phenomenon, or analytical method. Data sets that do not have consistent terminology between them may still be made interoperable by using ontologies to associate terms with common definitions. (For more information, please see the Ontologies section.)

Interoperability also involves standards of database structure and organization. The combination of vocabulary and database standards enables reliable queries during data searches and the use of common analytical models, allowing for collaboration between projects and individuals that are studying similar concerns.

In addition to collaborative benefits, metadata standards also provide specific advantages to the individual project. A good metadata standard results from the broad consultation of experienced researchers in a particular field. When combined with robust scientific design, field protocols, and data processing methods, the standard ensures quality data collection and documentation.

An established standard provides the definition of the geographic, environmental, and equipment-related information that should be recorded while in the field. Standards also provide direction for the documentation of data processing, file naming conventions and formats, and a glossary of precise definitions for applicable terms. These provisions allow the researcher to maximize the use of tools designed to facilitate data interoperability through quality data collection and organization.

Data collected in accordance with the quality and organizational guidelines set out in an established metadata standard are not only more easily shared, the studies that rely on such data are more easily funded. An increasingly common way to share and seek data on a particular topic is through the use of data clearinghouses or geo-portals that serve as cyber-depots for the sharing of data and collaboration between scientists of related interests.

The consistency that is provided by the use of standards is essential for such sites to function, and adherence to a standard is most likely a prerequisite for participation. Additionally, many funding agencies are now requiring the use of metadata standards in general, or a particular standard, in projects that they support to assure that the data from studies that they fund can be easily integrated into existing databases and GIS projects.

Suggested Citation

Hogrefe, K., Stocks, K. 2011. "The Importance of Metadata Standards." In The MMI Guides: Navigating the World of Marine Metadata. Accessed March 6, 2021.