Organising files and folders

Designing a logical folder structure and consistently applying descriptive file names over time makes your research process more efficient. Some best practices are provided below.

We all think we're going to remember how we named our data files and where we stored them. But in truth we never do. Let alone, our fellow researchers. Time invested in thinking about a clear naming and directory structure for storing your files pays off in the long run. You'll be able to easily find and understand your files later on.

File naming practice

Giving your data files a descriptive name - and consistently applying your naming strategy over time - will help you locate specific data later on. You might consider using some of the following information in your file names:

  • Project title
  • Experiment name
  • Researcher name
  • Date of date range
    YYYYMMDD is a preferred format because your data files stay chronologically organized
  • Type of data

You shouldn't try to use all the above aspects in the file name. Moreover, if you want to separate the different elements of your file name, do not use spaces or characters like ?\!@*%{[<> in the file name because some software programs don't recognize file names with these characters.

Be aware that storing files with the same name at different locations can lead to confusion. Therefore, develop a file naming practice that allows you to distinguish between files. Always make sure you clearly indicate versions. Some tips to store your files:

  • Use a file in one location as the "master", and do all your modifications and processing on copies of that master.
  • When you have consolidated your changes and do not want to lose them, replace the master file with the consolidated file.
  • Indicate versions clearly - especially which version is the master.
  • Use leading zeros for clarity to ensure files sort in sequential order. For example use_v001 instead of 1.

It's good research practice to add a Readme.txt file to your folders. A Readme.txt explains the abbreviations and versioning you've used in your file naming format.

Directory structure

It's important to have a logical folder hierarchy that allows you to understand where to find your files and avoid duplication. The following are some tips on creating a logical hierarchy:

  • Check whether group level procedures for structuring folders exist
  • Once you develop a naming scheme for your folders, stick to it
  • Start with a limited number of folders and create more specific folders within
  • Move the files you no longer work on to a different (back-upped) location

You may set up a clear directory structure by:

  • Data type (text, images, models, etc.)
  • Time (year, month, session, etc.)
  • Project title
  • Experimental run
  • Subject under investigation
  • Step in the research process
  • ...