Organising and naming files

How to organise and name your files to aid discovery.

The best time to decide how to organise and name your files is at the start of a project. Choosing consistent naming conventions and establishing logical folder structures will help you and your collaborators to locate, retrieve, and keep track of data. Good file organisation should apply to both electronic and physical research material.

  • Structure folders hierarchically – consider using folders for broad topics at the highest level and specific sub-folders within these. Try not to nest folders too deep and avoid having too many subfolders at each level. The UK Data Archive provides a useful example folder structure.
  • Establish naming conventions – consider how you will name folders and files in a concise yet meaningful manner. Decide on the format and order of the following elements in a file name: vocabulary/terms, abbreviations, punctuation, dates, numbers and versioning.
  • Use version control – consider how you will distinguish between different versions of your files and data. If you are manually controlling the versions, decide whether you will use a revision numbering system in the file name or version control tables. It is also helpful to agree who will finish final versions and mark them as ‘final’. Alternatively, the software you are using may already offer version control facilities or you may be able to install other specialised version control software to automate versioning for your files. 
  • Be consistent – once you have agreed on a file structure and appropriate naming conventions, make sure you stick to them. These rules will only be as effective as your ability (and that of your collaborators and project partners) to consistently follow them. 
  • Review materials regularly – consider setting aside a small amount of time to tidy up your files on a regular basis (eg moving completed work to an archive folder). If your project changes along the way, you may need to reassess your folder structure and adapt this accordingly so that it is still appropriate for the type of research being carried out.
  • Choose suitable file formats – consider how easy it will be to convert your final dataset to an open or standard file format for long-term preservation. The UK Data Archive provides a list of optimal data formats.



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