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The guide is copied from the Cornell University, Research Data Management Service Group (https://data.research.cornell.edu/content/readme) under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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.

Want a template? Download one and adapt it for your own data!cornell.box.com/v/ReadmeTemplate

Best practices

Create readme files for logical "clusters" of data. In many cases it will be appropriate to create one document for a dataset that has multiple, related, similarly formatted files, or files that are logically grouped together for use (e.g. a collection of Matlab scripts). Sometimes it may make sense to create a readme for a single data file.

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  1. Count of number of variables, and number of cases or rows
  2. Variable list, including full names and definitions (spell out abbreviated words) of column headings for tabular data
  3. Units of measurement
  4. Definitions for codes or symbols used to record missing data
  5. Specialized formats or other abbreviations used

Want a template? Download  Download one and adapt it for your own data!cornell.box.com/v/ReadmeTemplate

References

The preceding guidelines have been adapted from several sources by the Cornell University, Research Data Management Service Group (https://data.research.cornell.edu/content/readme) under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Additional sources include:, including:

Best practices for creating reusable data publications. Dryad. 2019. https://datadryad.org/stash/best_practices

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

Related information

Document and Store Data Using Stable File Formats. DataONE. http://www.dataone.org/best-practices/document-and-store-data-using-stable-file-formats. Useful information about file formats.

File formats. Cornell Research Data Management Service Group. http://data.research.cornell.edu/content/file-formats

File management. Cornell Research Data Management Service Group. http://data.research.cornell.edu/content/file-management

Introduction to Intellectual Property Rights in Data Management. Cornell Research Data Management Service Group. http://data.research.cornell.edu/content/intellectual-property

Metadata and Describing Data. Cornell Research Data Management Service Group. http://data.research.cornell.edu/content/writing-metadata