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Commonly Used Metadata Standards

In the case of datasets, metadata provides information regarding the who, what, when, where, how, etc. of a a dataset. This information will likely need to be recorded in a certain format in order to meet a recognizable standard. Check with a librarian or the depository into which you plan to deposit your data before you establish a plan for your metadata, to be sure you are following the correct guidelines.

Here is some information on common metadata standards, as well as some examples:


  • Dublin Core (DC): Widely used in disciplinary and institutional repositories

Life Sciences

  • Darwin Core: Designed to facilitate the sharing of information about biological diversity. It is primarily based on taxa, their occurrence in nature as documented by observations, specimens, and samples and related information. Primarily used in describing ecological specimens and for natural history collections.
  • Ecological Metadata Language (EML): Consists of XML modules that can be used to document ecological datasets. A good standard for non-spatial environmental data


  • Text Encoding Initiative (TEI): A widely-used standard for representing textual materials in XML.

Social Sciences

  • Data Documentation Initiative (DDI): A metadata specification for the social and behavioral sciences created by the Data Documentation Initiative. Used to document data through its lifecycle and to enhance dataset interoperability.


  • Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata (CSDGM): CSDGM, Vers. 2 (FGDC-STD-001-1998) is the current US Federal Metadata standard. The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) originally adopted the CSDGM in 1994 and revised it in 1998. According to Executive Order 12096, all Federal agencies are ordered to use this standard to document geospatial data created as of January 1995. The standard is often referred to as the ‘FGDC Metadata Standard’ and has been implemented beyond the federal level with State and local governments adopting the metadata standard as well. See this PDF document for guidance on moving from CSDGM to ISO.
  • ISO 19115-2:2000: Geographic information - Metadata - Part 2: Extensions for imagery and gridded data. This is an international standard for describing geographic information and services. Part 2 added content for ISO 19115 that supports the documentation of imagery, gridded data and other remotely sensed data such as monitoring stations.

Physical Sciences

  • NetCDF Climate and Forecast (CF) Metadata Conventions: The NetCDF Climate and Forecast (CF) Metadata Conventions are designed to promote the interoperable processing and sharing of data from netCDF files. They are focused on data use while the NetCDF Attribute Conventions are focused on data discovery.
  • WaterML: Water Markup Language is an XML-based information exchange schema used in water data services by the Hydrological Information System (HIS). Produced by the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science (CUAHSI), this schema helps enable the discovery and analysis of water-related data.