Five phases of data publishing (1)


Phase 1: Organize data and metadata

Collection status
Scientific domain


Getting organized

Regardless of the data arrangement, you will be producing a “data package”, i.e., the published unit of data and metadata together. Data repositories that are designed for both archive and delivery (like EDI’s) have these features, which you should keep in mind:

  • metadata and data immutability, so that data are trustworthy (e.g., to repeat an analysis),
  • data package versioning, with earlier revisions still available,
  • DOI assigned for each new package or revision, so that data can be cited exactly.

Guidelines for data packages

There are several facets to think about when organizing your data, and each is discussed here in more detail.

  • Collection status: Is data collection finished or will there be more added? Continuous instrument data is only one kind of “ongoing” data. Human-observed data (like ecological or biogeochemical surveys) may also be expecting updates, albeit less regularly.
  • Coherence: a group of tables that are linked or closely related should stay together to enhance understanding.
  • Presentation: should your data be organized “long” or “wide”? In a “wide” table, each variable has a separate column. A “long” (or narrow) table will have one column for all the values and another column for the variable’s name, or multiple columns for context. There are pros and cons to each.
  • Scientific domain: some communities have preferred formats to simplify integegration. it is a good idea to be aware of these so that your data can be easily converted if necessary.

Grouping data

Organize your data into the fewest logical units, e.g., data tables. As much as possible, many tables with the same structure and type of content should be compiled into a single table. The main features to consider are:

  • Similarity and relatedness of methods and observations.
  • Simplifying potential future use or synthesis.
  • Your local management constraints and circumstances.

Collection status

Data collection is finished

The data package(s) may be being created to go with a published paper or a student’s thesis. These datasets are not expected to have data values added later on. Very often, these data packages will be archived only once. Sometimes metadata might be enhanced later, but it is less likely that the data entities themselves will be changed.

Data collection is ongoing

Many data collection projects are ongoing, e.g., an LTER site has many ongoing data collections from several scientific domains. LTREB sites also generally have ongoing funding, and so data additions are expected. Field stations may have an ongoing meteorological station or a regularly-collected organism survey (e.g., for birds). For ongoing data, the submitter expects to be revisiting the data package and adding new data in the future.

Remember that all data packages have static data entities, and so in the case of ongoing data collections, a data package is a “snapshot” at a point in time, with a static beginning and ending date. Subsequent additions will be revisions of the original package.

More specific guidelines for ongoing datasets are here.


If several data units are closely related they are best packaged together with one metadata file. A primary table of observations could be accompanied by a table of sampling sites or taxonomic information that each contains more material than can be fit into structured metadata, or is likely to be joined to the main observation table. Group data entities together if they share high-level metadata (like people and sites) and methods.

In a large sampling campaign where many parameters are measured, methods vary, or data units may be independent, it is often best to break data into several packages, all accompanied by some of the same metadata and each with some unique metadata. This is especially true of ongoing campaigns, because packages composed of discrete units can be managed or updated independently. Some metadata is repeated across all packages when first created (such as locations or owners), but subsequent updates will be streamlined.


e.g., “Long” vs. “Wide”, for more see here.

Scientific domain

Geographically focused

Spatial data (e.g. shape files) of a common theme or scope should be zipped up in their respective folders. In EML, these should be typed as “otherEntity”. More information TBD.

Community survey data

EDI is developing recommendations for dataset content so that they can be easily converted to harmonized models, such as the ecocomDP model. More information TBD.


EDI working through this process, cognizant of existing work (e.g., the LTER) and with national data centers advising. More information TBD.

Streaming data (e.g., instruments)

Tried the GCE Data Toolbox for Matlab?