It’s the 21st Century — Do you know where your data is?

This is ‘Love Your Data‘ week, and each day we’ll be sharing a post about one or more fundamental data management practices that you can use. Part 2 of 5. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5


Have a plan for organizing your data. This usually includes a folder structure and file naming scheme (plan), and version control to keep track of file changes. Make these a part of your research process and they will become good habits. Check out the tips below!

You want to avoid this problem:phd052810s_storyInFileNames
want to see more? Google “bad file names” and browse through the images for laughs


File Naming: If you don’t already have a file naming plan and folder structure, come up with one and share it. See our list of good practices for naming files also summarized here:

  • Be Clear, Concise, Consistent, and Correct
  • Make it meaningful (to you and anyone else who is working on the project)
  • Provide context so it will still be a unique file and people will be able to recognize what it is if moved to another location.
  • For sequential numbering, use leading zeros.
    • For example, a sequence of 1-10 should be numbered 01-10; a sequence of 1-100 should be numbered 001-010-100.
  • Do not use special characters: & , * % # ; * ( ) ! @$ ^ ~ ‘ { } [ ] ? < >
    • Some people like to use a dash ( – ) to separate words
    • Others like to separate words by capitalizing the first letter of each (e.g., DST_FileNamingScheme_20151216)
  • Dates should be formatted like this: YYYYMMDD (e.g., 20150209)
    • Put dates at the beginning or the end of your files, not in the middle, to make it easy to sort files by name
      • OK: DST_FileNamingScheme_20151216
      • OK: 20151216_DST_FileNamingScheme
      • AVOID: DST_20151216_FileNamingScheme
  • Use only one period and before the file extension (e.g., name_paper.doc NOT name.paper.doc OR name_paper..doc)

File Version Control: Keeping track of versions of files, or file history, can be challenging but may save you a lot of time if you want to go back to an earlier version of a file. There are different ways to approach this issue:

  • Manually (low tech/no tech approach): Use a sequential numbered system: v01, v02
    • Don’t use confusing labels, such as ‘revision’, ‘final’, ‘final2’, etc.
  • Use version control software
    • If you use a cloud storage system, such as Spideroak, versioning might be built in/automatic
    • Git + Github may provide what you need but may also have a steep learning curve (but there are lots of educational resources, such as this and this, and there are also some GUI interfaces for Git if you’re not used to command-line work),  There are other systems too, such as Mercurial, or TortoiseSVN.

Folder Structure: Consider the hierarchy for how you want to organize your files, whether to use a deep or a shallow organization for them.

Here’s an example from the UK Data Archive :

Example of folder structure from UK Data Archive.

Example of folder structure from UK Data Archive.

Tell Us

How do you name your files? Do you have a system? Is it written down?
Would you change anything about it now, if you could?
What tools do you use to keep your files organized?

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See the guidelines on the UO Research Data Management pages
Contact us if you have questions.
Check out the resource board & the changing face of data on Pinterest

Source: materials adapted from LYD website.

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