Visualization has become an important ingredient of data analysis, supporting users in exploring data and confirming hypotheses. At the beginning of a visual data analysis process, data characteristics are often assessed in an initial data profiling step. These include, for example, statistical properties of the data and information on the data's well-formedness, which can be used during the subsequent analysis to adequately parametrize views and to highlight or exclude data items. We term this information data descriptors, which can span such diverse aspects as the data's provenance, its storage schema, or its uncertainties. Gathered descriptors encapsulate basic knowledge about the data and can thus be used as objective starting points for the visual analysis process. In this article, we bring together these different aspects in a systematic form that describes the data itself (e.g. its content and context) and its relation to the larger data gathering and visual analysis process (e.g. its provenance and its utility). Once established in general, we further detail the concept of data descriptors specifically for tabular data as the most common form of structured data today. Finally, we utilize these data descriptors for tabular data to capture domain-specific data characteristics in the field of climate impact research. This procedure from the general concept via the concrete data type to the specific application domain effectively provides a blueprint for instantiating data descriptors for other data types and domains in the future.
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