To save time in the long run, it's important to decide on how you will name and structure files and folders. Once research data is being created and manipulated, it can quickly become disorganised if organisation and documentation isn't considered. Also a file naming convention can help you to stay organised by making it easy to identify any files that might contain the relevant information to your research project.
Files names and organisation
Use of Folders – Use folders to group together all the work relevant to your current research/study.
Use Folder Names that are meaningful –Name the folder(s) so that it relates to your project or area of research. This makes the data easier to find should anyone leave the project.
Have different folders for any ongoing and completed work – By separating any work you have already completed and the work you are currently working on you will find it easier to keep track of what you are currently working on.
Further guidance on folder structure is available form the UK Data Service
File names should allow you to identify any experiment or project from the file name. Make sure you choose a naming format and use the same format throughout your project.
When considering a naming convention for yourself or your group you should consider the following.
- Keep the file name as short as possible but relevant to research/project. If possible, do not use more than 25 characters.
- Include dates in YYYY-MM-DD format (ISO 8601 standard). This allows you to sort your files in correct date order.
- Avoid using special characters such as % & / \ : ; * . ? < > ^! “ ()
- When using numbering make sure you use three digits (or 4 if you have a large number of files) i.e. 001, 002…….201, 202 and not 1, 2, 21, etc.
- Use underscores (_) instead of spaces
- Keep file names independent of location ('2014-01-05_survey' is better than just 'survey' even if it’s in a dated folder as searching will be improved)
- If using a personal name in the name of a file give the surname first followed by first name.
- The version number of a file must be indicated by using ‘V’ followed by the version number.
When working with data it is inevitable that you will end up with different versions of the same file which means it's important to keep track of these different versions. The different versions of a file might reflect different stages of your study so you must be able to distinguish between the different versions.
Version control makes this easier by allowing you to quickly identify the latest version of a file or a previous version if you need to role back a change made. If the need arises to roll back to a previous version this could save you from having to either re write the document or re run an experiment all over again.
The UK Data Archive lists the best practice for version control.
Best practice is to:
- decide how many versions of a file to keep, which versions to keep, for how long and how to organise versions
- identify milestone versions of files to keep
- uniquely identify files using a systematic naming convention
- record version and status of a file, e.g. draft, interim, final, internal
- record what changes are made to a file when a new version is created
- record relationships between items where needed, e.g. relationship between code and the data file it is run against; between data file and related documentation or metadata; or between multiple files
- track the location of files if they are stored in a variety of locations
- regularly synchronise files in different locations, e.g. using MS SyncToy software
- maintain single master files in a suitable file format to avoid version control problems associated with multiple working versions of files being developed in parallel
- identify a single location for the storage of milestone and master versions of files
Further guidance on version control are available on the University of Leicester website.
Sometimes it will be necessary to rename a large number of files at the same time i.e. image files from a microscope. Batch renaming software like Bulk Rename Utility for Windows systems (free Software) or Renamer 4 for Mac systems (pay for software). These software packages allow you to rename multiple files or folders at the same time.