Case study: Basic metadata

Basic metadata can be generated at several levels to help you and others recall and understand the details of a project or experiment.

For this case study we will use as an example a set of weather station data that is collected at Hopkins Marine Station. Two weather stations, like the one shown in the photo below, record wind, temperature, and precipitation values every ten minutes, 365 days a year. These data are stored in tabular files with 20 or so columns.

Hopkins weather station, photo by Joe Wible

If you visit the Marine Life Observatory web site, you will see a description of this project that helps you to understand its purpose and scope. This description serves as a basic form of metadata about this project.

Hopkins Marine Station Marine Life Observatory web site screen shot by Amy Hodge

By taking these descriptions a step further, researchers at Hopkins have created a more formalized set of metadata, shown below, for the project. Sixteen specific fields provide more details about the project than were included in the web page. This project metadata form can be used as a template to describe other projects as well, since all of these fields are fairly general in nature.

Hopkins weather station project metadata, image by Amy Hodge

But in order for the data files themselves to be usable by other researchers -- or even in the future by those who collected the data -- exact descriptions need to be provided for the contents of each column in the data file. The document shown below contains file metadata describing the contents of each column, including the frequency of measurements, units of measure, etc.

File metadata, image by Amy Hodge

All of these forms of metadata can be assembled yourself and will make your data much more understandable to you in coming years, to members of your research group that want to see what you did, or to other researchers that want to reference or reuse your data. None of these methods discussed require the use of metadata schema or standards, but could easily have incorporated controlled vocabularies or ontologies.

If you are interested in creating basic metadata for your project or experiment and would like to talk with us about how to get started, see our Consulting page for details or contact us. Or visit our page on creating basic metadata.