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Comment: improved accessibility

The guide is copied from the Cornell University, Research Data Management Service Group ( under under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Image Added

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:

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.
  • 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 YYYY-MM-DD or YYYY-MM-DDThh:mm:ss.
  • 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.
Getty Research Institute Vocabulariesgeographic names, art & architecture, cultural objects, artist names
Integrated Taxonomic Information Systemtaxonomic information on plants, animals, fungi, microbes
NASA Thesauriengineering, physics, astronomy, astrophysics, planetary science, Earth sciences, biological sciences
GCMD KeywordsEarth & climate sciences, instruments, sensors, services, data centers, etc.
The Gene Ontology Vocabularygene product characteristics, gene product annotation
USGS Thesauriagriculture, forest, fisheries, Earth sciences, life sciences, engineering, planetary sciences, social sciences etc.
IUPAC Gold Bookcompendium of chemical terminology from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC)


The preceding guidelines have been adapted from several sources, including:

Best practices for creating reusable data publications. Dryad. 2019.

Introduction to Ecological Metadata Language (EML). The Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. 2012.