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FAIR Guiding Principle I3:
(meta)data include qualified references to other (meta)data

Interpretation of I3

An important aspect of the I in FAIR is that data or metadata, generally speaking, does not exist in a silo – we must do what is necessary to ensure that the knowledge representing a resource is connected to that of other resources to create a meaningfully interlinked network of data and services. A “qualified reference” is a reference to another resource (i.e., referencing that external resource's persistent identifier), in which the nature of the relationship is also clearly specified.  For instance, when multiple versions of a metadata file are available, it may be useful to provide links to prior or next versions using a named relation such as “prior version” or “next version” (using an appropriate community standard relationship that itself conforms to the FAIR principles). In the case of data, imagine a dataset that specifies the population of cities around the world. To be FAIR with respect to principle I3, the data could contain links to a resource containing city data (e.g., Wikidata [26]), geographical and geospatial data, or other related domain resources that are generated by that city, so long as they are properly qualified references using meaningful, clearly-interpretable relationships. It is also important to note that many different metadata files (containers) being FAIR digital resources in themselves, can be pointing to the same “target” object (a data set or a workflow for instance). For instance a FAIR Digital Object constructed as a nanopublication can have intrinsic metadata (“what is this”) and how was it created (provenance type metadata) as well as “secondary” metadata that are for instance created (separately and later in time) by reusers of a particular digital resource. These could all be metadata containers essentially describing the same digital resource from different perspectives. This principle therefore also relates to the good practice to clearly distinguish between metadata (files/containers) and the resources they describe.

This interpretation of I3 is based on 'FAIR Principles: Interpretations and Implementation Considerations'. Jacobsen et al, Data Intelligence 2020; 2 (1-2): 10–29. doi:

Image by Vita Marija Murenaite
Anchor [26]


  • [26] D. Vrandečić . Wikidata: A new platform for collaborative data collection. In: Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on World Wide Web, 2012, pp. 1063–1064. 10.1145/2187980.2188242.
    Google Scholar10.1145/2187980.2188242

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