Do you ever think about thinking? You read correctly. Think – about thinking. Whether you think so or not, it’s likely that you do so on a regular basis. It’s called ‘metacognition’ – or ‘cognition about cognition.’ Every time you think about the way you’re thinking about something – e.g., “It’s interesting that I think of the opera as the finest form of human art.” – you’re practicing metacognition. Pretty cool, huh?

email metadata & metacognition

In the realm of electronic data discovery, metadata can be thought of as ‘data about data,’ or the information about a document or email that isn’t front facing. If you’re not all that familiar with this concept, you’re part of the vast majority. Most individuals aren’t aware that additional information is being recorded when they create emails, Microsoft Word documents, what have you.

External & Internal Metadata

To garner a further understanding of this idea of ‘data about data,’ we’ll segment metadata into the categories ‘internal’ and ‘external.’

Internal metadata is comprised of data that’s pulled from within the document or email. Some examples include:

  • Document Author in MS Word
  • Comments in MS Word
  • Email Sender (From: field)
  • Email Recipient (To: field)

External metadata, on the other hand, is typically generated by the operating system or user and often resides in an external Resource Description Framework (RDF) file. These files are formatted as XML documents, making them ideal for housing structured data. These are great for associating data with files that aren’t text-based, as well.

Email & Document Metadata & E-Discovery

So, how do document and email metadata fit into electronic data discovery? Well, as you might guess, metadata can be of great use to litigators and defense attorneys presenting evidence for a case. Think about all of the pertinent information that one might find in a document or email’s metadata. The file author, time/date of creation, and time/date of the last edit are all items that might come into play during a legal proceeding.

That’s the legal side of things. However, metadata can also be useful on the corporate side of e-discovery. For instance, in conducting an e-discovery request, you might want to find all of the documents authored by a given individual. As metadata provides structured author information, you can use it when creating your request filter. This might apply to documents authored on a given day, within a certain time period, etc.

Metadata in Business Practices

In your day-to-day business processes, there should be some standard set with regards to the handling of metadata. In particular, you should take extreme caution when dealing with files and documents that are set for examination as part of litigation. Why? Well, even if you’re not intentionally altering metadata in these documents, you could do so accidentally. Something so simple as changing a file’s location can alter several metadata fields. In court, an accident won’t necessarily be defensible.


When it comes to e-discovery, metadata affords us the opportunity to implement efficient search filters and to present pertinent email and document information as legal evidence. By setting strict standards for the handling of evidentiary documents, we can ensure that this data reflects what it should reflect, and that our actions are defensible in court.

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