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Documenting Geographic Data

What is metadata?

"Metadata is what makes data understandable, useable and shareable."
-International Standards Organization (ISO)

An integral part of any geographic data set is a well-organized description of its content. This explanatory information is called metadata: a written record of the most important facts about a data set. Metadata is critical to data creators who need to organize data and keep track of when it was created and what it contains. Metadata is equally important to those who share data and need clear and complete information about data they are considering using.

Well-designed metadata answers seven questions:

Metadata is also the cornerstone of the Minnesota Geospatial Commons search tool. Through the Commons, users search metadata records to locate the data that they want.

The Minnesota Guidelines

The Minnesota Governor's Council on Geographic Information developed a metadata format specifically designed for geographic data. The Minnesota Geographic Metadata Guidelines provide a convenient template to help anyone working with GIS to document their own data. These guidelines, adopted by MNIT Services as an official state agency guideline, are a streamlined version of a federal metadata standard, the Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata.

A copy of the guidelines can be viewed, downloaded in PDF format or obtained by contacting MnGeo at


See MnGeo's Metadata Resources page for free metadata entry software and help with reading, writing and using metadata.

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