Best Practices for Data Publication in the Astronomical Literature


We published an overview of Best Practices for Data Publication in the Astronomical Literature in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series in 2022 (2022ApJS..260....5C). This effort was led by NED, with collaborations from multiple major astronomy databases around the globe, including NED, IRSA, NASA Exoplanet Archive, KOA, ADS, CDS, HEASARC, Chandra, MAST, and also publishers, including AAS journals and Oxford University Press.

These recommendations are intended as a reference for authors to help prepare and publish data in a way that will better represent and support science results, enable better data sharing, improve reproducibility, and enhance the reusability of data. Observance of these guidelines will also help to streamline the extraction, preservation, integration and cross-linking of valuable data from astrophysics literature into major astronomical databases, and consequently facilitate new modes of science discovery that will better exploit the vast quantities of panchromatic and multidimensional data associated with the literature. We encourage authors, journal editors, referees, and publishers to implement the best practices reviewed here, as well as related recommendations from international astronomical organizations such as the International Astronomical Union for publication of nomenclature, data, and metadata.


This checklist is a digested version of detailed information given in the article. It is intended to be a short reference for authors, referees, and science editors to consult in order to avoid various pitfalls that often impede the interpretation of data and metadata by readers, and parsing by software, and therefore also complicate and delay integration of the data into astronomical databases.

  1. General rules (Section 2↗):
    1. Define all symbols, acronyms, and abbreviations at first use.
    2. Provide uncertainty and confidence level when reporting a new measurement.
    3. Present the appropriate number of significant figures for numerical measurements and uncertainties that match the precision of the measurements.
    4. Report the units for measurements if present, and adopt commonly used ones.
    5. Indicate preferred values if applicable.
  2. Nomenclature (Section 2.1↗):
    1. Provide the complete name for each object (Section 2.1.1↗).
    2. Include the "J" in names based on J2000 coordinates (Section 2.1.1↗).
    3. Insert spacers between a catalog name and the identifiers within the catalog (Section 2.1.1↗).
    4. Distinguish between part of an object and the object itself (Section 2.1.1↗).
    5. Do not use the same name for different objects (Section 2.1.1↗).
    6. Always assign a name and verify the name is unique (Section 2.1.2↗).
    7. Keep the appropriate number of significant figures in coordinate-based names (Section 2.1.2↗).
    8. Use established names for known objects and check for the correct formatting (Section 2.1.3↗).
    9. Confirm the names and positions for cross identifications (Section 2.1.4↗).
    10. Crossmatch the same objects in different tables within the same article (Section 2.1.4↗).
  3. Astrometry (Section 2.2↗):
    1. Provide the best available coordinates.
    2. Specify the celestial reference system and/or frame.
    3. Indicate the equinox and epoch of observation when necessary.
    4. State the wavelength range from which astrometry is obtained.
  4. Photometry (Section 2.3↗):
    1. State the facility, telescope and instrument used.
    2. Describe the method used to estimate photometry.
    3. Use standard passband/filter identifiers.
    4. Clarify the magnitude system.
    5. Specify spectral transitions completely.
  5. Time (Section 2.4↗):
    1. Provide the time of observation and exposure time.
    2. Favor full Julian Dates over abbreviated or offset Julian Dates.
    3. Include phase-timing measures along with reported periods when relevant.
    4. State when observations from multiple missions are executed simultaneously.
  6. Redshift/velocity (Section 2.5↗):
    1. Describe the method of redshift measurements (spectroscopic, photometric, etc.) and give references to the model/method.
    2. Specify the reference frame of the redshift measurements (barycentric, heliocentric, galactocentric, etc.).
    3. Provide the frequency/wavelength from which the measurement is obtained.
    4. State whether a published recessional velocity is based on observed frequency or wavelength shifts (i.e., radio or optical convention).
    5. Indicate the quality of the measurement when possible.
  7. Classifications (Section 2.6↗):
    1. Utilize established classifications as available.
    2. Define new classifications clearly.
  8. Orbital parameters (Section 2.7↗):
    1. Avoid using "longitude of periapsis" in place of "argument of periapsis".
    2. Be explicit about which body's orbit a longitude or argument of periapsis refers to (e.g., planet or host star).
    3. Include time of periapsis as appropriate.
  9. Tables (Section 3.1↗):
    1. Provide a clear title and unambiguous labels for columns.
    2. Explain the content of each column, including symbols and flags.
    3. Keep each column homogeneous.
    4. Use the same explicitly defined nonnumeric representations for missing (null) values throughout.
    5. Prepare ReadMe files for machine-readable tables.
  10. Figures (Section 3.2↗):
    1. Provide clear caption, legend, and axis labels for each figure.
    2. Design the graphics to be accessible.
    3. Make "data behind the plots" publicly available.
  11. Data archiving and access (Section 4↗):
    1. Append small data sets as part of the publication.
    2. Deposit large or complex data at a long-term archive most appropriate for your data. Adhere to the specific format requirements from the archives.
    3. Provide a complete list of metadata.
    4. Include a Data Availability Statement if required by the journal.
    5. Do not publish data sets at URLs lacking long-term support.
  12. Literature citations (Section 5.1↗):
    1. Cite the original references.
    2. Use preferred citations by the authors.
    3. Provide full provenance of the data. Credit the originator of archival data, including the principal investigator.
    4. Include all references in the bibliography section.
    5. Distinguish original data in your article and data taken from other work.
  13. Facility credits (Section 5.2↗):
    1. Indicate the facilities involved, such as telescopes, instruments, and databases.
    2. Use standard keywords when possible.
    3. Include facility's own statement if available.
  14. Software credits (Section 5.3↗):
    1. List the software and version used in the production of the article.
  15. Digital object identifiers (Section 5.4↗):
    1. Use DOIs to cite data sets, software and services if available.
  16. Data content keywords (Section 6↗):
    1. Tag articles with relevant data content keywords from the UAT.