Help Your Future Self – Write it Down!

This is ‘Love Your Data‘ week, and each day we’ll be sharing a post about one or more fundamental data management practices that you can use. Part 3 of 5. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5

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Think about your future self: Document, document, document! You probably won’t remember that weird thing that happened yesterday unless you write it down. Your documentation provides crucial context for your data. So whatever your preferred method of record keeping is, today is the day to make it a little bit better!


Data documentation or metadata is essential to sharing your data with other researchers or your future self.

One form of data documentation is a readme file. Here are some basic best practices (courtesy of Cornell University) for readme files:

  • Create one readme file for each data file, whenever possible. It is also appropriate to describe a “dataset” that has multiple, related, identically formatted files, or files that are logically grouped together for use (e.g. a collection of Matlab scripts). When appropriate, also describe the file structure that holds the related data files (see Example 2 in this PDF).
  • Name the readme so that it is easily associated with the data file(s) it describes.
  • Write your readme document as a plain text file, avoiding proprietary formats such as MS Word whenever possible. Format the readme document so it is easy to understand (e.g. separate important pieces of information with blank lines, rather than having all the information in one long paragraph).
  • Format multiple readme files identically. Present the information in the same order, using the same terminology.
  • Use standardized date formats. Suggested format: W3C/ISO 8601 date standard, which specifies the international standard notation of YYYYMMDD or YYYYMMDDThhmmss.
  • Follow the conventions for your discipline for taxonomic, geospatial and geologic names and keywords. Whenever possible, use terms from standardized taxonomies and vocabularies.

Today’s Activity:

Using the guidelines and examples in Cornell’s pdf guide, write your own readme file and share it:

Twitter: #LYD16
Instagram: #LYD16
Facebook: #LYD16


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Source: materials adapted from LYD website.

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