Can’t remember anything about your data?

Use readme files to provide needed data documentation

By cea + from The Netherlands (Metadata is a love note to the future) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Ever open a data file and aren’t sure what you’re looking at? Avoid the confusion by taking notes about your data in a README file.

README files are simple (usually plain text) files that provide key contextual information about your data. Details to consider for a README file include:

  • when and by whom the data was collected,
  • what the data was collected for, and
  • explanations of codes, abbreviations, or variables used in the data files.

Link your readme file to your data and keep it in the same place, so the next time you open your files it all makes sense.

Need help getting started or want a second pair eyes on your data documentation? Take a look at our documenting your data web page or contact Data Management Services at