Data File Management

This guide discusses the best practices of data file naming, file formats, and file versioning and control

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File structure and order

How should I organise my files?

Whether you are working on a stand alone computer, or on a networked drive, the need to establish a system that allows you to access your files, avoid duplication, and ensure that your data can be backed up, takes a little planning. A good place to start is to develop a logical folder /directory structure. The following tips should help you develop such a system:

  • Use folders / directories - group files within folders so information on a particular topic is located in one place
  • Adhere to existing procedures - check for established approaches in your team or department which you can adopt
  • Name folders appropriately - name folders after the areas of work to which they relate and not after individual researchers or students. This avoids confusion in shared workspaces if a member of staff leaves, and makes the file system easier to navigate for new people joining the workspace
  • Be consistent – when developing a naming scheme for your folders it is important that once you have decided on a method, you stick to it. If you can, try to agree on a naming scheme from the outset of your research project
  • Structure folders hierarchically - start with a limited number of folders for the broader topics, and then create more specific folders within these
  • Separate ongoing and completed work - as you start to create lots of folders and files, it is a good idea to start thinking about separating your older documents from those you are currently working on
  • Try to keep your ‘My Documents’ folder for files you are actively working on, and every month or so, move the files you are no longer working on to a different folder or location, such as a folder on your desktop, a special archive folder or an external hard drive
  • Backup – ensure that your files, whether they are on your local drive, or on a network drive, are backed up
  • Review records - assess materials regularly or at the end of a project to ensure files are not kept needlessly. Put a reminder in your calendar so you do not forget!

File naming best practices

Useful file names are consistent, meaningful to you and your colleagues, and allow you to find the file easily.

Decide on a file naming convention at the start of your project.  Consider the following common elements:

  • Vocabulary – choose a standard vocabulary for file names, so that everyone uses a common language
  • Punctuation – decide on conventions for if and when to use punctuation symbols, capitals, hyphens and spaces
  • Dates – agree on a logical use of dates so that they display chronologically i.e. YYYY-MM-DD
  • Order - confirm which element should go first, so that files on the same theme are listed together and can therefore be found easily
  • Numbers – specify the amount of digits that will be used in numbering so that files are listed numerically e.g. 01, 002, etc.

The Details

File names should allow you to identify a precise experiment or project from the name. Choose a format for naming your files and use it consistently. 

You might consider including some of the following information in your file names, but you can include any information that will allow you to distinguish your files from one another. 

  • Project or experiment name or acronym
  • Location/spatial coordinates
  • Researcher name/initials
  • Date or date range of experiment or project
  • Type of data
  • Conditions
  • Version number of file
  • Three-letter file extension for application-specific files

Another good idea is to include in the directory a readme.txt file that explains your naming format along with any abbreviations or codes you have used.

Simple tips

  • Try not to make file names too long. Long names encourage more mistakes do not work well with all types of software.
  • Special characters such as  ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ` ; < > ? , [ ] { } ' " and should be avoided.
  • A good format for dates is YYYYMMDD or YYMMDD. This format makes sure all of your files stay in chronological order.
  • When using sequential numbering, using leading zeros to make sure files sort in sequential order. For example, use "001, 002, ...010, 011 ... 100, 101, etc." instead of "1, 2, ...10, 11 ... 100, 101, etc."
  • Do not use spaces. Some software will not recognize file names with spaces. Try instead:
    • Underscores, e.g.
    • Dashes, e.g.
    • No separation, e.g.
    • Camel case, where the first letter of each section of text is capitalized, e.g.

Batch Renaming Tools