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Research Data Management: File Organization


Organizing and naming your files effectively will make a significant impact on your ability to locate them and understand what they contain. 

When it comes to file naming: be descriptive and consistent.

When it comes to file organization: develop conventions, record the conventions, and stick to those conventions.

File Naming

When constructing a file name, consider using one or more of the following:

  • Project or experiment name or acronym
  • Location/spatial coordinates
  • Researcher name/initials
  • Date or date range of experiment
  • Type of data
  • Conditions
  • Version number of file

Version Control

Version control is the process of managing changes to files.

Manual version control can be as simple as adding a version number or a date (using YYYYMMDD format) to the end of the file name.

Examples: ASIST_abstract_v3.docx or ASIST_abstract_20180522.docx.

You can also use version control software or tools such as Github.

For more depth, see:

Version Control Brief, a short guide which goes over both manual and tool-based options.

Version Control & Authenticity, which focuses on manual options, produced by the UK Data Archive.

Additional File Naming Tips

  • Develop a documented and standardized format with your co-researchers.
  • Use 25 of fewer characters if possible.
  • Avoid using special characters, such as @, #, &.
    • See this page for more depth on characters to avoid.
  • Do not use spaces; instead use underscores or camel case.
    • Examples: NYC_climate_data.csv or NYCclimateData.csv
  • Do not use periods, except before the file extension.
    • Example: 201805_survey_results.tsv, rather than 201805.survey.results.tsv
  • When including the date, follow the ISO 8601 format: YYYYMMDD

File Organization Resources

File Renaming Tools



File Shortcuts / Aliases

Say you have a folder-based organization structure, and you have a file which you want to appear in multiple folders. What's the best way to approach this?

Simply copying the file will open you up to issues of version control (did I update both files?), as well as taking up valuable space.

Instead, you should create a file shortcut (in Windows) or a file alias (in Mac) in the additional folder(s) where you would like the file to be located. When you click on the file shortcut/alias, it will pull the file from its true location and open it.

To create a file alias (Mac)

To create a file shortcut (Windows)