Metadata Quick Reference


It can be a bit of a challenge to determine what to place in each entry in metadata. The quick reference below will guide you through the entries we recommend (including all the required entries).

Required metadata fields

Item Description

Title - this will be the name for the file and does not need to be changed (as long as you gave the file a good name)

Summary (Purpose) - a short description of the original purpose for the data set

Description (Abstract) – describe the purpose of the data and how it was created.  Optimally, this should go back to the origin of the data so users can know if it is appropriate for their purpose.

Credits - List the author(s) and organization(s) that created the data and made any major changes or addition to it.

Topics & Keywords

Topics – Select the topic that best matches your data


Under “Dates”, at least add the “Creation Date” so folks know when the spatial data was created


File Identifier - You can click "Create" to create a unique identifier for the data set if required.

Language - Specify the language the text in the data set is in.


Add your contact info, including an email (which is not required but how else folks will contact you?)

Name – Your name

Organization – The organization that created the data if any

Email – An email for you or your organization that will last as long as the data is useful


Format Version – The version of the format specification used to create the data file (i.e. TIFF 3.0).  “Unknown” for shapefiles as the version is not documented.

Fields (Entity and Attribute Information)

For shapefiles, just open the "Details" panel on the first Entity and open the "Entity Type" panel and edit the entries there.

Entity Type– information about the type of data in the data set, similar to “theme” (rivers and streams). An entity is one data set and some GIS formats allow for multiple data sets within one file. Shapefiles only have one data set per file so you'll only have one entity for each shapefile.

Definition – A description of the type (e.g. natural water courses, species locations, administrative boundaries)

Definition Source – The name of an authoritative source (e.g. United States Geological Survey, Integrated Taxonomic Information System, International Standards Organization, The United Nations), otherwise “None".


Under each "Entity" you should see a series of Attribute panels, one for each attribute in your shapefile. The first three ("FID", "Shape", and "Id") are added by ArcMap. Their metadata is filled out except for the "Id" field which needs a definition, definition source, and one "Domain".

Label – the name of the attribute, typically from the column name in the attribute table

Alias – the name of the attribute can only be 10 characters in ArcMap.  The alias allows a more detailed name to appear in the attribute table.

Definition – a definition of the contents of the attribute.  Enough information should be provided for the user to decide to whether the attribute meets their needs and how to use it.  Typically this includes how the value was created and its units.  Examples would include “Specific Epithet identified visually by…”, “Height of a tree in meters measured with…”).

Definition Source - The name of an authoritative source (e.g. United States Geological Survey, Integrated Taxonomic Information System, International Standards Organization, The United Nations), otherwise “None".


Below each attribute are options for "New...Domain". Select one for each attribute that needs one based on the type of attribute.

Enumerated Domain – For ordinal attribute, their possible values.  This could be any set of enumerated data such as life stage (e.g. 0 – infant, 1- juvenile, 2 - adult).

Range Domain – for attributes with continuous range of values with a defined minimum and maximum value.  Examples include height of trees (e.g. 0 to 300 meters).

Codeset Domain – attributes that used a defined set of “codes”, typically specific names such as species, range type, soil type, mineral.  The possible codes should be listed or a source for the codes should be included.

Unrepresentable Domain - Anything that does not fall into one of the categories above such as a general "notes" or "description" field.


FGDC Don’t Duck Metadata Metadata Quick Guide - This is really intended for databases

FGDC - The federal committee web site. Complete and really hard to navigate

ArcGIS Illustrated guide to complete FGDC metadata - Great detail on the structure of the editor tool but not on filling it out.

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