Organising files and folders

Designing a logical folder structure and consistently applying descriptive file names over time makes your research process more efficient. This ensures that you, but also fellow researchers, can easily locate your data files.

We all think we're going to remember how we named our data files and where we stored them. But in truth we mostly don’t. Let alone, our fellow researchers. Investing time in thinking about a clear naming and folder structure for storing your files pays off in the long run. You'll be able to easily find and understand your files later on.

Folder 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, but do not use more than 5 levels of folders.
  • Move the files you no longer work on to a different (back-upped) location

You may set up a clear folder 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
  • ... etcetera.

Best practices in file naming; file naming conventions
Applying a consistent and descriptive file naming convention (i.e. a systematic file naming method) helps to

  • identify the content of a (data)file without opening it
  • easily and quickly locate, retrieve and filter (data)files, even if they have changed folders
  • easily sort and browse through your (data)files
  • identify missing (data)files

What to think through when designing your file naming convention

1. How you want to sort your files. This can be by

  • date: use YYYYMMDD or YYYY-MM-DD, which ensures sorting in chronological order,
  • file version: use leading zeros, v01 or v001 (depending on the number of version you expect) instead of v1, for sequential sorting
  • or another parameter that is most important to you (e.g. project/experiment name, researcher, data type, method etc.).

2. How to make your file name as descriptive as possible with essential parameters. Think of project/experiment name, researcher, date (range), data type, method etc.

3. Avoid long file names; they should not exceed 30 characters. As such, depending on the number of parameters you want to use, they are likely to be abbreviated. When this is the case, it is important to document this in a readme.txt file.

4. Avoid special characters and spaces when separating the different elements of your file name, do not use spaces or characters like ?\!@*%{[<> etc., because some software programs don't recognise file names with these characters. You can use dashes and underscores. 

Organising my own files and folders
For PhD candidates and postdocs, the Graduate Schools offer a Research Data Management course, which is organised by WUR Library and given four times a year. This course covers various aspects of data management, among which how to organise your files and folders.

If you have questions or if you would like to get feedback on your folder structure and file naming, contact the Data Desk