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Data Management Services assists Brandon researchers with the organization, management, and curation of research data to enhance its preservation and access now and into the future

Best Practice for File Naming

Large research projects can generate hundreds of data files. Short descriptive file names and a simple file hierarchy make these files easier to navigate and locate.  Set up conventions for your project, document them for all team members, and be consistent

It's a good idea to set up a clear directory structure that includes information like the project title, a date, and some type of unique identifier.

Individual directories may be set up by date, researcher, experimental run, or whatever makes sense for you and your research.

Information for File Names

File names should allow you to identify a precise experiment from the name. Choose a format for naming your files and use it consistently. 

You might consider including some of the following information in your file names, but you can include any information that will allow you to distinguish your files from one another. 

  • Project or experiment name or acronym
  • Location/spatial coordinates
  • Researcher name/initials
  • Date or date range of experiment
  • Classify broad types of files (transcript, photo, etc.)
  • Conditions, Confidentiality and Permissions 
  • Include a version number to track multiple versions of a document
  • Three-letter file extension for application-specific files
  • Make sure that file names are descriptive outside of their folders (in case they are
    misplaced or change locations); i.e., the file name should include all necessary
    descriptive information

Another good idea is to include in the directory a readme.txt file that explains your naming format along with any abbreviations or codes you have used.


Recommended conventions:

Denote dates in YYYYMMDD format

DO: Use 20180403

DON’T: Use 04032018

BECAUSE: Computers sort YYYYMMDD in chronological order.


Use a short unique identifier (e.g. Project Name  / Experiment Name or Grant #)


DON’T: Centre for Hip Health and Mobility

BECAUSE: Short filenames prevent the need for side scrolling and column adjustment.


Include a summary of content (e.g. Questionnaire or GrantProposal) as part of the file name

DO: FileNm_Guidelines_20180409_v01.docx

DON’T: FileNm_20180409.docx

BECAUSE: Files will be easier to find.


Use _ as delimiters.  - Avoid these special characters: & , * % # * ( ) ! @$ ^ ~ ‘ { } [ ] ? < > –

DO: FileNm_Guidelines_20140409_v01.docx

DON’T: FileNm Guidelines 2014 04 09 v01.docx

BECAUSE: Different computer systems handle special characters differently – filing order, etc.


Do not use spaces.

Some software will not recognize file names with spaces, and file names with spaces must be enclosed in quotes when using the command line. Other options include:

Do: Use Underscores, e.g.

Can: Use Dashes, e.g.

Can: Use No separation, e.g.

Can: Use Camel case, where the first letter of each section of text is capitalized, e.g.

When using a sequential numbering system, use leading zeros for clarity and to make sure files sort in sequential order.

Do:  use "001, 002, ...010, 011 ... 100, 101, etc."

Don’t:  Number using "1, 2, ...10, 11 ... 100, 101, etc."

Keep track of document versions either sequentially (e.g. v01, v02,) or with a unique date and time ( e.g. 20140403_1800)

DO: FileNm_Guidelines_20140409_v01.docx

DON’T: FileNm_Guidelines_20140409_Review.docx AND FileNm_Guidelines_20140409_Investigation.docx

BECAUSE: Two years from now, you won’t remember what you meant.

Make folder hierarchies as simple as possible

DO: F:/ Env/LIBR/DataMgmt_FileFormats_20140409_v01.docx

DON’T: F:/Environment/Library/Woodward/Data/Education/Materials/Draft/2014/04/-DataMgmt_FileFormats_20140409_v01.docx

BECAUSE: Complex folder hierarchies are harder to navigate and offer more opportunities for filing errors. System back-ups may take longer.


Keep file names under 32 characters.  Longer file names do not work well with all types of software.

File names should be short enough to be readable, while still conveying enough pertinent information.

Good filename example: DV_ICPOES_20101115_JDSv2.dat



Renaming files

You may already have a lot of data collected for your project and wish to organize and rename these files for easier data management. If you have too many files to rename them all by hand, try one of the following applications for renaming your files:

 of an organized and thorough method used by one research group to name a large set of image files.

Adapted from:

Research Data Management DataGuide.  UBC Library.  Accessed March 8th, 2021

UBC Library. Research Data Management.  Organize.  Accessed March 8th, 2021 

Stanford Libraries, Research Support, Data Management Services.   “Best practices for file naming”.  Accessed February 22, 2021,