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Data Management for Undergraduate Researchers: File Naming Conventions

What is a File Naming Convention?

A File Naming Convention (FNC) is a framework for naming your files in a way that describes what they contain and how they relate to other files.  Developing an FNC is done through identifying the key elements of the project, the important differences and commonalities between your files. These elements could include things like the date of creation, author's name, project name, name of a section or a sub-section of the project, the version of the file, etc. An advantage to using unique and standardized filenames is the ability to follow path names and link to other systems that require unique filenames. 

Resources on File Naming Conventions

Why should I use a File Naming Convention ?

A file naming convention (FNC) can help you stay organized by making it easy to identify the file(s) that contain the information that you are looking for just from its title and by grouping files that contain similar information close together.  A good FNC can also help others better understand and navigate through your work.

Consider the following examples:

Files without employing an naming convention:

  • Test_data_2013
  • Project_Data
  • Design for project.doc
  • Lab_work_Eric
  • Second_test
  • Meeting Notes Oct 23

Files with a naming convention:

  • 20130503_DOEProject_DesignDocument_Smith_v2-01.docx
  • 20130709_DOEProject_MasterData_Jones_v1-00.xlsx
  • 20130825_DOEProject_Ex1Test1_Data_Gonzalez_v3-03.xlsx
  • 20130825_DOEProject_Ex1Test1_Documentation_Gonzalez_v3-03.xlsx
  • 20131002_DOEProject_Ex1Test2_Data_Gonzalez_v1-01.xlsx
  • 20141023_DOEProject_ProjectMeetingNotes_Kramer_v1-00.docx

The files with a naming convention provide a preview of the content, are organized in a logical way (by date yyyy-mm-dd) identify the responsible party and convey the work history, unlike the files without a naming convention.

Guidelines for Developing a File Naming Convention

Establishing an effective file naming convention is an investment of time and effort. It should be based on your articulated needs as well as your team. There are no perfect file naming conventions, but there are some basic rules that can help guide you.

  • Find the right balance of components for your FNC. Too few components create ambiguity; too many limit discovery & understanding.
  • Use meaningful abbreviations.  File names that contain too many characters can be unwieldy and cause problems in transferring files.
  • Document your decisions including: what components you will use (the "project name" for example), what are the appropriate enteries ("DOEProject"), what acronyms mean (DOE stands for the Department of Energy), etc.
  • Your files will be grouped together based on the first few components so start your FNC with the more general components and move to the more specific ones later on.  Dates should always be yyyy-mm-dd to organize files chronologically.
  • A file naming convention breaks down if not followed consistently.  Be sure that everyone who needs to use the FNC is aware of it and knows how to apply it.


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Scott Brandt
Purdue University Libraries

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