Research Data Management (RDM): Metadata Management

Metadata for Research Data

What is Metadata?

Metadata can be described as ‘data about data’. It is information that has been documented to help other researchers discover and cite someone's data. Metadata makes data easily searchable, easily located from a citation and easily understood by people who might want to use that data. It is the descriptive information that gives context to data.

The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) defined metadata as follows “Metadata is structured information that describes, explains, locates, or otherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use or manage an information resource.”

University of Pretoria repositories are committed to making the metadata they create as open as possible to encourage discovery of materials, research, and a variety of current and future uses. The library avoids placing additional restrictions on reuse, except in cases of ethical, contractual or legal obligations.

Three main types of Metadata

Descriptive Metadata

This type of metadata identifies resources by their descriptions.It helps connect users to resources, and provides important context about a resource once it is discovered. Descriptive metadata may include elements such as title, author, subject, publisher, idetifier, date of publication etc.

Metadata description therefore tries to answer the following questions and many more during the discovery process: who created the data, what the data file contains, when the data were generated, where the data were generated,why the data were generated. 

Administrative metadata 

This type of data fascilitates the nanagement of resources. It can include elements such as the file type, as well as when and how the asset was created, rights and use of data.

Structural Metadata 

This metadata type indicates how digital assets are organised and how they are related to one another. It includes the physical structure of data and it is generally used in machine processing.

Metadata standards

If metadata is to function effectively, it needs to be created and structured consistently by making use of metadata standards/schema.

A metadata standard or schema is a set of elements that have been standardized for a particular field of research which is used to describe data in a consistant manner. Different disciplines have different schemas but the most generally used is the Dublin Core, in which the Simple Dublin Core Elements are useful for documenting metadata for research data. 

Other useful metadata standards include:



DataCite Metadata Schema


Metadata useful resource


  • Understanding metadata: What is metadata, and what is it for?: A primer by Jenn Riley (2017): this guide is available for free online, published by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) 

Metadata Tool

Tips on good metadata creation

When metadata is created, a researcher should bear this in mind 

  • To give file names that will be easily associated with the project
  • Clarify how the data was generated (including any equipment or software used)
  • Include an explanation of codes, abbreviations, or variables used in the data
  • Choose keywords wisely and possibly use a thesaurus to add descriptive terms
  • Include as many details (rich metadata) as you can in the metadata record for future users of the data 

Metadata checklist

  • Does your data has an identifier? This can either be a handle or a DOI for discovery and citation
  • Is the metadata descriptive? all relevant elements should be given and preferrably use controlled vocabularies
  • Are the files interoprerable? 
  • Is the metadata indexed in a searchable resource?
  • Is there an indication of a given license for reuse?

See also a document on Figshare Metadata for research data