USGS Data Management
Data Management: Describe (Metadata, Documentation)
Throughout the data lifecycle process, documentation must be updated to reflect actions taken upon the data. This includes acquisition, processing, and analysis, but may touch upon any stage of the lifecycle. Updated and complete metadata are critical to maintaining data quality. The key distinction between metadata and documentation is that metadata, in the standard sense of "data about data," formally describes various key attributes of each data element or collection of elements, while documentation makes reference to data in the context of their use in specific systems, applications, settings. Documentation also includes ancillary materials (e.g., field notes) from which metadata can be derived. In the former sense, it's "all about the data;" in the latter, it's "all about the use."
What the U. S. Geological Survey Manual Says:
The USGS Manual Chapter 502.2 - Fundamental Science Practices: Planning and Conducting Data Collection and Research discusses the requirements for data documentation:
"Documentation: Data collected for publication in databases or information products, regardless of the manner in which they are published (such as USGS reports, journal articles, and Web pages), must be documented to describe the methods or techniques used to collect, process, and analyze data (including computer modeling software and tools produced by USGS); the structure of the output; description of accuracy and precision; standards for metadata; and methods of quality assurance."
"Standard USGS methods are employed for distinct research activities that are conducted on a frequent or ongoing basis and for types of data that are produced in large quantities. Methods must be documented to describe the processes used and the quality-assurance procedures applied."
The USGS Manual Chapter 502.4 - Fundamental Science Practices: Review, Approval, and Release of Information Products covers the documentation of methodology:
"Methods used to collect data and produce results must be defensible and adequately documented."