A readme file provides information about a data file and is intended to help ensure that the data can be correctly interpreted, by yourself at a later date or by others when sharing or publishing data. Standards-based metadata is generally preferable, but where no appropriate standard exists, for internal use, writing “readme” style metadata is an appropriate strategy.
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 the PDF version).
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 scientific conventions for your discipline for taxonomic, geospatial and geologic names and keywords. Whenever possible, use terms from standardized taxonomies and vocabularies, a few of which are listed below.
Recommended minimum content for data re-use is in bold.
The preceding guidelines have been adapted from several sources, including:
Recommendations for authors. Dryad. 2012. http://datadryad.org/depositing now available at https://web.archive.org/web/20120413115438/http://www.datadryad.org/depositing
Introduction to Ecological Metadata Language (EML). The Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. 2012. https://web.archive.org/web/20120424124714/http://knb.ecoinformatics.org/eml_metadata_guide.html
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Portions of this guide are adapted from the Cornell University Research Data Management Services Group website under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.