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Summer Research Partners and Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows

Planning for Collaborative Research

Basic Rules to File Naming

File names can include:

  • project name, acronym or research data name
  • study title
  • location info
  • researcher initials
  • date (designated YYYYMMDD or YYMMDD, which insures your files will be sorted by chronological order)
  • version number 

Always document decisions on what components you will use, what acronyms mean, how the file names are structured. Consider including a README.txt file in the directory including all the documentation.


  • Use hyphens and underscores to separate elements in a file name
  • Start file names with general terms and move towards more specific (files are grouped based on the first components)
  • Use abbreviations! Nobody likes a file name the length of a novel
  • Only use abbreviations if you can use them consistently. It's hard to search for 4 variant spellings.
  • Use leading zeros when using numbers for sorting (1-100 should be numbered 001 - 100)


  • punctuation ( such as & , . " / ) or spaces in the file names
  • designation versions in a manner that's not sortable (e.g. FinalVersion, Final, LastOne)


Examples of good file names:

Examples of poor file naming:



Example file structure and file-naming for general or research projects


This is just one of many ways to organize your files. Each project and collaboration will name and organize differently, and all are viable options as long as the structure is orderly, logical, and follows file naming conventions.

No matter what, be consistent with your organization and naming.

Questions for collaborators

  • How should our files be named?
  • Which of our files are going to be actively edited?
  • Which of our files will be used by others in the future?
  • Where will our files be stored?
  • At what point can our files be archived?
  • How will we archive our files?
  • How will we keep track of our decisions?

Writing Documentation and Metadata

Why You Should Organize Your Files Right Now!

Beyond organizing your files for your own use over the course of your project, doing so according to broadly accepted standards helps aid in collaboration with colleagues, with citing your data, and sharing your published data down the road.

Why name your files consistently?

  • Distinguishes similar records
  • Facilitates rapid storage and retrieval
  • Facilitates automation of tasks
  • Enables browsing of files
  • Prevents wasted time

At the core of file naming conventions is the idea that your file names should allow all of your documentation and research to be sortable and accessible by various computer programs.

File Structure and Organization

Organizing files in folders logically and systematically can help you locate and organize files and versions down the road. 

First create a top-level folder whose name contains the project name or acronym and a date.

Within that top-level folder, project files can be organized by:

  • research activity (interviews, surveys, focus groups)
  • data type (img., txt., database)
  • kind of material (publications, deliverables, documentation)