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Metainformation is simply small segments of information about information. The main function of metainformation is to provide some broad details about the focus and content of a larger body of more comprehensive information. Within the context of the emerging field of knowledge management, the perimeters for qualifying a particular segment as metainformation has become fairly well defined.
Essentially, metainformation or metadata often serves as a precursor or as a synopsis to the data and information contained in a larger body of details. For example, the body of a term paper would be understood as containing data and information. However, the title, description or synopsis of the subject matter for the paper, or any type of overview would be considered metainformation.
In a sense, metainformation serves as a teaser for what is to come. The common elements that are classified as metainformation provide a glimpse into what the larger body of information is all about, without revealing a great deal of facts. Thus, the use of metainformation is usually a device to entice the reader to move forward and begin reading the larger work.
The construction of metainformation often relies on all the elements identified within the discipline of knowledge management. Metainformation will make use of data, which are simply factual components. Information, which is essentially conclusions that are drawn from the presented data, may also partially inform the structure of the metainformation. Finally, the component of knowledge also is often included. Knowledge within this context is understood to be the component that involves making use of the data and information to project an outcome.
While the actual identification of titles, subject lines, and the use of a synopsis as metainformation is a relatively new phenomenon, the concept has been around for centuries. Many authors choose to make titles somewhat descriptive, especially in scholarly works of research. The use of a simple one or two sentence synopsis is common in many scientific and business related documents. Certainly, the idea of drawing conclusions and using the included data to project future events is also a common element of written works throughout the ages. Understanding these literary constructs in terms of metainformation simply makes it easier to identify these common elements in terms that are readily understood in today’s world.