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Data Module #4: Keeping Your Data Organized

File and Folder Naming Best Practices

Create file and folder names that fit your organization structure and clearly identify their content. Here are three rules to follow when naming files and folders: 

  • Be consistent
    Establish a naming convention and follow it consistently across all folders and files.
  • Be descriptive
    Use descriptive names related to the content of the file or folder. These might include project name, date, and location. File names such as "use_this_one_.xls," "the_best.csv," or "data_file_3.dat" can quickly lead to confusion. 
  • Be concise
    Create names that are as short as possible while still descriptive. Long file names do not work well with some scripting and analysis software. Use meaningful and commonly understood abbreviations when appropriate. For example, instead of "version5," use "v5."


  • Document your convention

Include a readme.txt file in the documentation folder that explains your naming convention along with any abbreviations or codes you have used.

Tips for Naming Your Data Files


The file naming convention you adopt will affect the order files are displayed when sorting. For example, adding leading zeros will enable you to sort your files in sequential order. If you have 10-99 files, use a single leading 0 for your single digit numbers (01, 02, etc.).  Dates in file names can also lead to issues if not formatted correctly. A good format for date designations is YYYYMMDD. This format makes sure all of your files stay in chronological order.



Spaces and special characters such as $,%,&,#,<,> are not allowed by some software packages. If needed, use underscore ( _ ) in the place of a space as a connector between elements in your file names. Capitalizing the first letter of file name elements is another way to be clear while avoiding spaces.



Don't name a file after yourself. When you are using names, list the family name first, followed by initials: SmithJR_transcript.rtf. 

Bulk File Renaming Tools

Tools for renaming many files at once:

Situations where batch renaming may be useful include when images from a digital camera are automatically assigned base filenames consisting of sequential numbers and where proprietary software or instrumentation generate default filenames.