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Data Module #4: Keeping Your Data Organized

Organizing your Data Files

Let's Talk Folder Structure

A logical folder structure facilitates access to your files for you and others. We will briefly take a look at why folder structure and file organization is important and show you one way to accomplish this.


One common mistake is saving all your research files in a single folder. While this keeps everything in one place, there isn't enough structure to allow you to easily distinguish your files from one another. If you use multiple folder and subfolders, creating a hierarchy, you will more easily be able to keep track of your research files.  This hierarchy also makes it easy for others to understand and work with your files. Some examples of data-related files you will want to organize are: raw data, results, documentation, procedures, field notebooks, and others. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when creating a folder structure:

  • Keep all of the original data files in a folder to archive them. Make copies of these files to work with. Keep your working files in a separate folder from your original files.
  • In your working files folder keep track of different versions of your data.  Save and archive versions any time you make significant changes to your data. 
  • Create a folder for documentation. This documentation may include data dictionaries, lab or field notebooks, metadata, procedures, and anything else that would help you or others understand your research. 
  • Put your final results data in it's own folder. This allows easy access to the final data files used to support your research claims and to write your paper.   

Sample Folder Structure

Sample Folder Structure

Here is a sample folder structure:

  Adapted from Project TIER: Teaching Integrity in Empirical Research, Haverford College