Suggestions for a good README

A README is a text file that provides a brief overview of a project or repository, and is often the first thing people see when they visit your project. In the CRC, README files serve an important purpose in documenting the details of a project, including any metadata that may not be captured by specific metadata standards. This information can be crucial for reproducing experiments and simulations, and making sure that the project is understood and usable by others.


You can find an example of a README file that follows the suggestions for a good README in the project template.


A good README file is clear, concise, and provides enough information for others to understand the purpose and goals of the project, as well as how to get started with it.

  • Provide a clear and concise overview of the project

  • Include setup instructions, dependencies, and any necessary information for running the project

  • Include any relevant metadata that can aid in reproducing the experiments or simulations

  • Use clear and simple language

  • Maintain the README and update it as the project evolves.

Every project is different, so consider which of the following sections apply to yours. Also keep in mind that while a README can be too long and detailed, too long is better than too short. If you think your README is too long, consider utilising another form of documentation rather than cutting out information.


Choose a self-explaining name for your project.


Let people know what your project can do specifically. Provide context and add a link to any reference visitors might be unfamiliar with. A list of Features or a Background subsection can also be added here. If there are alternatives to your project, this is a good place to list differentiating factors.


On some READMEs, you may see small images that convey metadata, such as whether or not all the tests are passing for the project. You can use Shields to add some to your README. Many services also have instructions for adding a badge.


Depending on what you are making, it can be a good idea to include screenshots or even a video (you’ll frequently see GIFs rather than actual videos). Tools like ttygif can help, but check out Asciinema for a more sophisticated method.


Within a particular ecosystem, there may be a common way of installing things, such as using Yarn, NuGet, or Homebrew. However, consider the possibility that whoever is reading your README is a novice and would like more guidance. Listing specific steps helps remove ambiguity and gets people to using your project as quickly as possible. If it only runs in a specific context like a particular programming language version or operating system or has dependencies that have to be installed manually, also add a Requirements subsection.


Use examples liberally, and show the expected output if you can. It’s helpful to have inline the smallest example of usage that you can demonstrate, while providing links to more sophisticated examples if they are too long to reasonably include in the README.


Tell people where they can go to for help. It can be any combination of an issue tracker, a chat room, an email address, etc.


If you have ideas for releases in the future, it is a good idea to list them in the README.


State if you are open to contributions and what your requirements are for accepting them.

For people who want to make changes to your project, it’s helpful to have some documentation on how to get started. Perhaps there is a script that they should run or some environment variables that they need to set. Make these steps explicit. These instructions could also be useful to your future self.

You can also document commands to lint the code or run tests. These steps help to ensure high code quality and reduce the likelihood that the changes inadvertently break something. Having instructions for running tests is especially helpful if it requires external setup, such as starting a Selenium server for testing in a browser.


Show your appreciation to those who have contributed to the project.


Consider adding your ORCID iD to the authors section of your project’s README file. This helps to clearly identify you as the author, ensures that your work is properly linked to your ORCID profile, and increases the discoverability and transparency of your research. Adding your ORCID iD is simple and can be done using a markdown link format:

[Name of Researcher](


It is recommended to add the following paragraph to the Acknowledgements or Authors section:

This work was supported by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) through the Collaborative Research Centre CRC 1261 “Magnetoelectric Sensors: From Composite Materials to Biomagnetic Diagnostics”.


For open source projects, say how it is licensed.

Project status

If you have run out of energy or time for your project, put a note at the top of the README saying that development has slowed down or stopped completely. Someone may choose to fork your project or volunteer to step in as a maintainer or owner, allowing your project to keep going. You can also make an explicit request for maintainers.