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Last Updated: Jul 16, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Organizing Files Print Page

Organizing and Naming Files

Having rules or conventions for directory structures and filenames early in a research project, when there are few or no files, will make it easier to identify files later, when there are many files.

Directory Structures

Your directory structure for storing files should be consistent and match the logic of your research.

For example, if your research includes collecting data from multiple locations over time, you might have separate data files from each visit to a location. It may make sense to organize these files hirerarchally with location as the top level folder and date as the second level in the hierarchy or vice versa depending on the goals of the project. Mixing the two systems or having no system would make it harder to find the files.


Short, meaningful names have been recommended (such as by the UK Data Archive and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst), but those same recommendations include suggestions to include information such as date of creation, file type, version information and even the directory structure within the filename. Provide enough detail that the file name is meaningful, while keeping the name as brief as possible.

Naming Practice Reason

Meaningful names

The name makes files identifiable both while you are working on them and in the future, when the details of the research are not as easily memorable.

Include descriptive information about file (e.g. file creation date, version number)

Data files may be very similar (e.g. multiple runs of a sample), so descriptive information within a file name distinguishes similar files from each other and makes it easy to see the differences without requiring the file to be opened.

Short names

Names that are too long become unreadable. Screen displays may cut off the right-hand section of long file names, so two files with similar file names become hard to distinguish.

No spaces or special characters such as *$:%, Some computer programs treat special characters as commands or spaces as the end of a name.

Reserve the three letter extension after the . for the software-assigned file type.

Some programs require these three-letter extensions to open them, and the presence of these extensions makes it easier to identify files in a particular format if they need to be migrated to a different format.

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