Organising Data

Keeping your data files well organised with a consistent system of file naming, versioning and folder structure will help you and your collaborators to easily locate and keep track of your data.

File Naming
Consider developing file naming conventions early on in your project. Such conventions include

  • which terms to use in your file names (vocabulary)
  • which abbreviations to use
  • punctuation and spelling, eg will you use CamelCase or not, and will you use dashes (-) or underlines (_) instead of spaces
  • format of dates, eg YYYY-MM-DD is easier to sort than DD-MM-YYYY
  • versioning
  • the order of the elements in the filename

Other tips for naming your files

  • Make sure your file names are unique, and keep them independent of their location (‘interview_2015_05_01’ is better than ‘2015_05_01’ even if the file is located in a folder called ‘interview’)
  • Use file names that are concise but informative, so that you can tell the contents of the file without having to open it
  • Be consistent
  • Think about what comes first in the filename, because operating systems usually sort files alphabetically
  • It can be helpful to include a version number in the file name, especially when you have multiple versions of a file and when it is important to keep several versions
Folder structure
Also consider using a hierarchical file structure, where folders are nested in other folders. Try to make the categories of your folders not too broad — to avoid that a folder contains so many files it becomes difficult to manage — and not too deep — to avoid having to click through a large number of folders to find a file. The UK Data Archive advises to restrict the level of folders to three or four deep and not to have more than 10 subfolders in each folder.

It may be worth to reassess your folder structure now and then, perhaps moving unused items to an ‘Archive’.

Version control
It is easy to lose important information by accidentally saving over an existing file. Version control might help to prevent this. It may also help you to avoid working with outdated files. File versioning will also provide a record of how your work and the thinking behind it have developed.

There are several options when versioning your files. If you only need the latest version of each file, then you do not need to version — each new version can simply overwrite the old one. If versioning is required, than you could include a version number, a date, and/or the author’s initials in the filename when saving. This can be combined with the ‘track changes’ feature available in many software packages such as Microsoft Word. For some purposes dedicated version control software (such as Git) can be useful.

More information
Guidance and good practice

Online training module

  • Organising data is an excellent interactive online training module from the MANTRA project