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Illinois Tech Library Guides

Data Management: Describe

This guide provides best practices and resources for getting started with managing research data.

Describing and Organizing Data

When you begin to collect data it is time to start describing it. In the data life cycle, the describe stage involves describing the collected data accurately and thoroughly using appropriate metadata standards. 

Metadata

Metadata is data about data.

This is the instruction manual you create for your data that describes the: Who? What? When? Where? How? and Why?

This information is important because it can help you find the data, understand what the data is about, and share the data with others.

Different metadata standards exist for different disciplines or data types. These standards provide common terms, definitions, and structure that ensure consistent communication. Some common metadata standards include:

Dublin Core

Darwin Core

FGDC (Federal Geographic Data Committee)

DDI (Data Documentation Initiative)

ABCD (Access to Biological Collections Data)

AVMS (Astronomy Visualization Metadata Standards)

CSDGM (Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata)

For more information about metadata standards and to find out which standard might be best for your data, consult this resource.

 

How to organize files

Files can be organized in a number of different ways. A couple of suggestions for organizing include:

  • by stage: collection materials, raw data, processed data, shared data
  • by data type: databases, text, images, models, etc.
  • by research activities: interviews, surveys, experiments, etc.
  • by materials: data, documentation, publications, etc.

Descriptive names

When creating file names you want to be descriptivespecific, and consistent.

Descriptive- what is actually contained in this file?

Ex. do NOT use: IMG_123.jpg

instead, use: pinetree.jpg

Specific- make it easy to determine what files are by including specific names

Ex. do NOT use: notes.docx

instead, use: 20180201_ChemistryNotes.docx

Consistent- once you have decided on a format for naming files, follow that format

Ex. do NOT use: pics.jpg, morepics.jpg, morepics2.jpg

instead, use: pinetree.jpf, pinetreecloseup.jpg, pinetreelandscape.jpg

By creating descriptive file names, you can more easily find the data you are looking for. Additionally, descriptive file names make it easier for others to know which files to use or which files they need from your data. 

Date and number formatting

Date formatting

If you include dates in the names of your files, it is important to follow the YYYYMMDD format. Following this format will make it easier to browse through files because they will sort in a logical order.

The following three files are from November 1st, 1960, January 5th, 1977, and May 1st, 2000. 

Not using numerical dates:                                              With numerical dates:
01051977_libraryexample.jpg                                         19601101_libraryexample.jpg
05012000_libraryexample.jpg                                         19770105_libraryexample.jpg
11011960_libraryexample.jpg                                          20000501_libraryexample.jpg

 

Number formatting

If you are including numbers that aren't dates, be sure to include a leading 0. 

Spaces and special characters

Spaces and special characters should be avoided in file names. Special characters and spaces can designate special meaning to programming languages and operating systems, and might be misinterpreted when included in file names.

Zea mays
  ze@m@ys
Zea_mays
Zea-mays
Zeamays
ZeaMays

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