Organize Your Files
Investing time up front to develop an efficient system and naming protocols will save time in the long run and enable sharing with collaborators. How will you name your folder? You need to develop a structure for your directories. How will your folders and sub-folders be organized? You may think you remember everything about a project and the corresponding files, but over time, it becomes more difficult to recall details about files, versions, and locations of important documents.
How you organize your files is equally important to how you name them. Having a well thought out directory structure (folders and subfolders) can help make files easier to find as you work on analyzing your data and publications.
Organizing your directories to follow your workflow. For example:
- One directory could contain all your raw data files. Subdirectories could further divide the files into date collected, or location, the piece of equipment used, or the experiment
- A second directory could contain files that have been cleaned or manipulated for further analysis. This directory could use the same format as the raw data directory, or perhaps it could be organized by when files where modified or by whom.
- A final directory would contain files that are in their end prepared usable state, for example data that is going to be submitted supporting publications or presentations.
You want your file names to be useful to you so put them to work! You want to make the file names meaningful, but still short.
You might consider including in your file name:
- Experiment Type
- Experiment Number
- Researcher Name
- Sample Number
- Site Name
- Analysis Type
File names should be meaningful, but still short. Here are a few other guidelines:
- Be consistent!
- Short, preferably less than 25 characters. This makes files easier to read and identify at a glance.
- No spaces. Spaces in file names are not always recognized by programs or applications. Use dashes, underscores, or alternating letter case:
- Camel case: CuteDogPictures.csv
- Pothole case: cute_dog_pictures.csv
- No special characters (such as " \ < > $ & ')
- Date represented as YYMMDD or YYYYMMDD. Using a format that list the year first help ensure that files will be listed chronologically.
Think about the best way of naming files when dealing with multiple versions or revisions.
- When you have multiple versions of a file considering saving each version using ordinal numbers (1,2 3, etc.) for major changes between versions and a decimal to represent for minor changes.
- Using dates to differentiate file versions poses an issue when multiple revisions are made on a single day.
- Avoid imprecise labels to differentiate versions.
- Finally, decide if it is necessary to keep old versions of a file once it has reached a completed form. Older versions could be moved to a directory for obsolete files or possibly deleted.
Putting It All Together
As you develop a file naming and organization systems, remember to have both parts complement and work with each other to create a overall system that works well for your workflow. Consider including a README file in each folder to explain your structure and the file naming convention so people collaborating with you understand your convention and you can refresh your memory when you return to the directory later.
Directory Organization Resources
Below are some links with more information about directory organization:
- Data Management: File Organization training from MIT Libraries.
- Find Files Faster: How to Organizes Files and Folders by Chelsea Beck of Zapier Inc.
- Plan Your Folder Structure best practices from Box.
- "What are shared drives?" Using Google Drive to share files for research.
File Naming Resources
There are multiple file naming resources available from multiple sources. Below you will find some links with more information on file naming.
- File Naming Handout you can use that gives you quick tips on how to develop a file naming convention.
- Best Practices for Filenaming, Organizing, and Working with Data from the Smithsonian Institute. Be sure to look at the PDF for Best Practices for File Naming and Organizing at the bottom of the page.
- File Naming Video from University of Wisconsin (6 minutes)
Programs to Rename Files
If you need to reorganize or rename a large number of files one of these programs may help: