Today is all about data dictionaries and some practical steps to begin to implement them in your everyday practice. First, let’s level set and define what a data dictionary is.
Oxford Dictionary defines data dictionaries as the following:
a set of information describing the contents, format, and structure of a database and the relationship between its elements, used to control access to and manipulation of the database.
To be honest, this definition sounds somewhat technical. In reality, a data dictionary defines and describes the elements of a database. The dictionary gives clear descriptions of each data field, including data type, so a person can easy reference the document and quickly gain an overview of the data stored in each table.
One of my best practices is to include a “report data dictionary” when I send out custom dataset to my customers. This document gives a quick overview of the purpose of the report, where the data was pulled from, and a definition of each of the fields contained in the report. This can be as simple as an extra sheet on your excel spreadsheet with this information. It can also be as fancy as utilizing some third party software to store this information either in your organizations data schema or reporting system.
An example of a quick and easy excel template to get started using report data dictionaries can be found below:
Benefits of including report data dictionaries when sending datasets include:
- Increased visibility for customers to understand where the data came from
- Record keeping of data elements used in datasets for report writers
- Data dictionaries are part of an enterprise data governance strategy and can be used as a model for other departments
- Data dictionaries make it clear what data is contained in the reports so everyone consuming the data is on the same “page” (no pun intended!)
More traditional data dictionaries that describe databases and warehouses are beyond the scope of this post. I hope that you found some value in learning about report data dictionaries and a practical example of how to implement one in your work.
Here’s the link to download the example excel data dictionary file:
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