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Data Management for Research

File Naming Conventions

A File Naming Convention (FNC) is a framework for naming your files purposefully by describing what they contain. Developing an FNC is done by identifying the key elements of the project. These elements could include things like the date of creation, author's name, project name, name of a section or sub-section of the project, or the version of the file.

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 not employing a 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.docx
  • 20130709_DOEProject_PrimaryData_Capaldi_v1.xlsx
  • 20130825_DOEProject_Ex1Test1_Data_Tennant_v3.xlsx
  • 20130825_DOEProject_Ex1Test1_Documentation_Tennant_v3.xlsx
  • 20131002_DOEProject_Ex1Test2_Data_Baker_v1.xlsx
  • 20141023_DOEProject_ProjectMeetingNotes_Whittaker_v1.docx

Unlike the files without a naming convention, 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.

Tips for File Naming Conventions

  • Find the right balance of components for your FNC. Too few components create ambiguity; too many limit discovery and comprehension.
  • Use meaningful abbreviations.  File names that contain too many characters can be unwieldy and cause problems in transferring files.
  • Use underscores instead of spaces in the file name. Some programs have trouble interpreting spaces in file names.
  • Document your decisions including: what components you will use (the "project name" for example), what the appropriate entries are ("DOEProject"), what acronyms mean (DOE stands for the Department of Energy).
  • Your files will be grouped together based on the first few components so start your FNC with the more general components (e.g., project name) and move to the more specific ones after. 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.


If you are unsure of the data management policies or practices best suited for your research, or if you have any other questions, please contact the University Libraries Data and Publishing Services team.