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Organising data

Creating appropriate file and folder structures will save time, avoid data losses, and allow re-use of the data. Some schools and research groups already have conventions or guidelines in place to help organise data and it is best practice to adhere to these where available. When organising your data consider:

  • How will you locate and retrieve specific data as and when you need it?
  • How will you name your data files to ensure they can be easily understood by someone else?
  • How will you ensure that your file naming is compatible across platforms?

Creating file names

If no existing conventions exist in your school you can design a set of guidelines for file naming that include the following elements:

  • Numbers – specify the amount of digits that will be used so that files are listed numerically, e.g. 01, 002, etc. Do not use non-alphanumeric characters. Ensure your numbering convention is scalable.
  • Dates – agree on a logical use of dates so that they display chronologically, e.g YYYY-MM-DD. This format makes files easier to find chronologically.
  • Spaces – remove spaces or use underscores and hyphens to separate words, e.g. ‘project-225-descriptions-08.xls’
  • Vocabulary/Descriptors – agree a standard and consistent vocabulary across the research team. Avoid general words as lead descriptors that convey little information such as ‘draft’, ‘document’, ‘summary’, etc. unless they convey specific information about that file.
  • File versions – label file versions numerically, e.g. ‘1.0, 1.1, 1.2, etc’

In all, 25 characters should be sufficient to provide a meaningful name to a data file. Dependent on the software you use check for case dependency when naming files.  To ensure a file is compatible across platforms it may be worth using the ‘8.3 Convention’ for file naming, with 8 characters followed by a 3 character file extension (e.g. abcdefgh.tif).

For further advice on file naming please see the guidance from the University of Edinburgh, or this example of a specific naming convention from Queensland University of Technology. You can also read our blog post on research file management.

Batch renaming of files

There may be situations when you need to rename a large number of files at the same time.  Batch renaming software allows you to rename a sequence of files with one command. For Windows users Bulk Rename Utility can be useful freeware. For Mac users Renamer is an example of pay-for software.

Version control

Version control is the process for managing file revisions and amendments during the life cycle of the research. A generic example of a version control table has been drawn up by the UK Data Service.

You can protect final versions of files by applying a read-only tag in the properties of the document.