Metadata are data that provide descriptive information (content, context, quality, structure, and accessibility) about a data product and enable others to search for and use the data product. In a lab setting, much of the content used to describe data is initially collected in a notebook; metadata is a more formal, sharable expression of this information. It can include content such as contact information, geographic locations, details about units of measure, abbreviations or codes used in the dataset, instrument and protocol information, survey tool details, provenance and version information and much more. Where no appropriate, formal metadata standard exists, for internal use, writing “readme” style metadata is an appropriate strategy.
The Digital Curation Center provides a catalog of common metadata standards, organized by discipline.
Some specific examples of metadata standards, both general and domain-specific are: