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Research Data Management: File management


Applying standards to the structure and organisation of research data will improve the managementaccess, and re-use of the data. A sound strategy to the organisation of data is particularly important in team projects where more than one person will be accessing and analysing the data. Where possible, consider automated methods to save time. ​

View research project data summary from example data management plan.

File names

Digital file names can be important for identifying and finding a digital file. Researchers should develop an organised electronic filing system where everyone involved in data collection, analysis, reuse, and storage understands the file naming protocols.

The most important things to remember about file naming are to be consistent and descriptive in naming and organizing the files. The use of good naming conventions provides a useful cue to the content and status of a file, including its version. Select an appropriate naming convention for your files as early as possible and follow it throughout your research.

The use of good naming conventions provides a useful cue to the content and status of a file, including its version. The following examples highlight basic principles of file naming.

  • File name is concise and meaningful
  • Sentence case including a capital letter for names and proper nouns
  • Full name with family name in UPPER CASE
  • Date format: yyyy-mm-dd. When referring to year only, always use four digits
  • Terms separated with a dash. Avoid punctuation
  • Too short. 25 to 100 characters is generally adequate
  • Does not describe the subject or topic of the document’s contents
  • Avoid abbreviations - temp could mean template, temporary etc. Use the full word instead
  • Do not use the following characters within the document name: . , ; : = \ / * ? " < >
Renaming files

If there are too many files, which renaming them all by hand is challenging, using one of the following applications may be helpful:

File directories

Developing a system to organise files requires consideration of good naming conventions, consistency of terms used and a development of a coherent and consistent folder structure. This will ensure it is easy to locate, organise and navigate all files and versions. 

Some considerations:

  • Consistent file names e.g. 2010-03-05 Female Health Survey Results; 2011-04-15 Female Health Survey Results, etc where results are collated annually
  • File hierarchy refers to the number of levels or sub-folders in the directory
  • Folder direction determines how folders are ordered e.g. Results > 2012 or 2012 > Results
  • Ambiguous naming or overlapping categories, especially at the top-level, can cause confusion

The UK Data Archive provides an example of a well-organised folder structure.

Version control

Version control is necessary when data is constantly updated and/or is accessed by more than one person and can be implemented by agreeing on a standard for naming files or folders. For example:

  • Date can be part of the file name e.g. 2012-02-27 Template for soil testing.xlsx
  • Append the author's name to the filename e.g. Template for soil testing (modified by AH).xlsx
  • Add a version number after each major edit e.g. Template for soil testing v03.xlsx

You can find more information about data version control under the More resources sidebar on this page.

Example research project data organisation and structure

This is an example data organisation and structure from the data management plan for a fictitious research project:

Physical data sheets will be sorted by date in a single folder.

Digital records will be organised in a simple hierarchical structure e.g.

- Data

   - Survey

   - Photos

The photos will be named according to the partial species ID, survey number, date and time the photo was taken e.g.


The survey analysis file will be worked on and updated regularly. Weekly snapshots of the data file will be made, and each snapshot will be date stamped for easy identification e.g.


The digital record of transcribed survey data and survey analysis will be kept in Excel 2010 xlsx format. Photographs will be originally shot in RAW, but processed to JPEG in Adobe Lightroom.

Manage data files

GTD Project Files by Nels Highberg 

More resources