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Term of the Week: Metadata

What is it?

Attributes of content you can use to structure, semantically define, and target content.

Why is it important?

Extends the capabilities of content, making it more powerful and enabling efficient operation in a data-driven world.

Why does a technical communicator need to know this?

Metadata can take many forms. In simplest terms, metadata describes attributes or constraints of a content field. Metadata provides additional context or information that tells software how to handle content. Metadata should be used in conjunction with business rules to deploy and design content appropriately.

Content may relate to one or more subjects, and you can use metadata to show those relationships. Many digital systems encode display information into metadata, but this creates confusion. You might be tempted to tag a video as featured, but at best, featured is a temporary designation. Instead, use dates, times, subjects, content types, and constraints as metadata, and build display and presentation rules that use that metadata.

Though many organizations create their own customized metadata, using a metadata standard such as Dublin Core[Dublin Core] (or an industry-specific standard) can simplify your work and make your content more extensible. Using a standard schema for metadata allows you to make your data interoperable with other industry-standard systems and can aid translation and localization efforts.

When your system serves multiple languages, cultures, or countries, ensure that you have considered how to translate metadata as well as content. Are the classifications the same in multiple countries? Sometimes differences in concepts, customs, and regulations are just as important to localization as the language, and these differences often show up in metadata.

Metadata is sometimes revealed to users (in faceted search, for instance), but most often, it’s the behind-the-scenes workhorse that makes your life easier.


  • [Dublin Core] Dublin Core Metadata Initiative: The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) is an open organization supporting innovation in metadata design and best practices across the metadata ecology.

About Laura Creekmore

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Laura Creekmore and her company, Creek Content, help organizations end content chaos and communicate effectively, developing content strategy and information architecture for organizations in healthcare and other complex fields. Creekmore teaches content strategy as an adjunct faculty member at Kent State University.

Term: Metadata



Twitter: @lauracreekmore