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Research Data Management

Qualitative Data and Documentation

Qualitative data can take many forms: sound, image, video, observation notes, written documents, etc. It is generally not reproducible. Its documentation is not always as straightforward as that of quantitative data, as context can be much more important and require much more information.

Beyond the documentation available in a README file, using metadata will make the files in your dataset much easier to use. Most file types contain both their primary data and some accompanying embedded metadata. Using this kind of metadata appropriately is a good way to document your work natively and inform other users adequately.

A list or catalogue of your files can be a very effective form of documentation, especially for audio, video, or image files. A simple Excel file containing basic organised information about each of your files is easy to use and understand. The contents of such list can sometimes be generated by metadata management tools.

Basic Embedded Metadata

Microsoft Office (and other similar software) allows you to fill metadata fields within the File > Info > Properties menu. You can enter basic information such as author(s), title, status, tags/keywords, and comments. One interesting aspect of this is that when you convert your document to an Adobe PDF, these metadata fields will also be included in the resulting file.

Adobe PDF metadata can also be edited or filled using Acrobat Pro. When you upload a PDF file onto the web, search engines can use these metadata fields to better index your documents. Not only does metadata give useful information to future users of your work, it can also make it more visible.

Picture collections can be managed much more efficiently if the individual files receive detailed image metadata. Check our dedicated page for more information.

Sound files can also receive metadata tags that can be managed using tools like Metadigger.

Video files also have specific embedded metadata. They can be managed with Adobe Bridge, among others.

Qualitative Research Software and Metadata

NVivo: the UK Data Archive has an excellent guide on data management with NVivo, which includes guidance on metadata management. 

ATLAS.ti allows you to import the metadata of most files you are working on. This feature means that describing your files appropriately will make your analysis work easier.