Describing Data

Describing Your Data

Describing your research data will maintain its’ usefulness in the future. Many fields have standard metadata schema, like Ecological Metadata Language for ecology as well as languages (ontologies) such as Gene Ontology, which describes gene function. Proper combinations of metadata and ontologies can allow your research data to be understood by the broader scientific community.


Metadata is data that describes data. Using a metadata schema that is specific to your discipline or datatype will provide more detailed metadata. To find metadata schema that apply to your research, check out the Digital Curation Centre’s directory. If you cannot find an appropriate metadata standard, Dublin Core can be used to describe any subject matter.


Ontologies provide formal names and definitions to properties, and interrelationships of the concepts. Field-specific ontologies easily ensure the standard use of the same language to others in your field. To find ontologies appropriate to your data, check out the OBO foundry. If you cannot find an appropriate ontology, try to use terminology that is widely used in the field, even if it doesn’t have a formal structure.

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