Bite-sized RDM #1 – file naming conventions

Examples of bad file names

Have a look at the filenames in the above image, and consider how useful they’ll be in three years’ time, when those files are sitting in a folder called ‘For filing’ along with several other desktop dumps, and hundreds of other, almost identical filenames? You shouldn’t rely on metadata like creation or modification dates for help – they’re often corrupted or lost when files move between operating systems, platforms and media.

A true metadata-driven storage system would solve this problem of course, but while we wait for that to come along, you can work smarter with filenames and develop your own metadata system. Adopting a naming convention needn’t be a huge burden – the following suggestion might help you to plan a convention that would work for you.


GRPH – Invent a personal (or lab) 4-character code for every type of file you create, e.g. ‘GRPH’ for graphs, ‘PRTN’ for presentations, ‘WBLT’ for Western blots etc. Avoid more common-sounding codes like ‘BLOT’ or ‘PRES’ because they may return false positives in a search.

GlacierRetreat50yrs – Add a meaningful and easy-to-read ‘keyword’ title, without punctuation or special characters. Most filesystems permit around 255 characters in a filename so there’s plenty of space to include good keywords in this element, but it’s better to be economical – use just enough to help you to find the file later.

V01 – A version number using 2 digits. Much better than ’Thesis-final-final-final’.

20170127 – Date in YYYYMMDD format. This is the most universally understood format, readable and easily sortable by most computing systems.

PZFX – An intact, valid file extension is essential.

A convention such as the above will save a LOT of time in future, and make searching and sorting much easier, not only for you but also for colleagues or group leaders who might have to find crucial data in a disk that you leave behind at the end of your project.

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