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Tips For Naming Your Files Better

File naming represented by a closeup of a mouse clicking on a digital file

Name it to claim it.

Finding files within a large system can be a headache. When you work with a diverse array of people, all with different personalities and working styles, file names vary greatly. In order to make it easier to (a) search for files and (b) see what a file contains, we’re going to talk about some file naming best practices that your team may want to adopt.

What’s in a name?

Though the character of Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet took issue with a name meaning much, when it comes to the name of company files, “what’s in a name” is time spent searching for that blasted file so you can get to work already! Ahem, my apologies for the temper tantrum. Having a file naming protocol for your team can help make everyone’s work lives much easier. Here are some suggestions on what to include in a name. The name of the project, case, or experiment: While this goes without saying, many may skip it — sending you on a wild goose chase.

1. Date or date range of the activity discussed. 

Many filing systems will automatically include the file creation date or date when the file was last edited, but this may not reflect when the documented activity actually occurred. Including this information may be very useful. When formatting such date, consider using a YYYYMMDD format. This practice of dating files will allow them to be organized by date even over the course of centuries if need be.

2. Relevant locations. 

Even if you’re a small business and most of your records are only relevant to your single office location, there may come a time when you expand and open new locations. Listing the relevant location using any number of techniques and acronyms will be a useful way to organize data.

3. The type of data: Again, many filing systems will show what data type the file is, but this may vary across operating systems. Simplify seeing this information by listing it in the file name itself may be tremendously helpful for file previewing and organization.

4. File version: We all make mistakes and times change. Including the version of the file in the name will be a quick way to identify which of the many updated versions are available. In order to make it easy to order files chronologically by version, consider using zeros in empty figures — ”0001, 0002...0900...3039...etc.)  Sidenote: “Final version” is only a good version title if there’s absolutely no chance that a file will ever be updated again. You can probably vouch for this upon naming a file “final-version-round-12.”

5. Never use spaces or special characters. 

Some filing systems can handle spaces and special characters. Some cannot. In order to make file names more easily digestible by a variety of filing systems, do not use special characters (~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ` ; < > ? , [ ] { } ‘ “) or spaces, instead opting for dashes ( - ), underscores ( _ ), no spaces (likethis), or camel case (WhichLooksLikeThis, etc.). Some systems do not support camel case, making "StevesonSteelPipeSalesPresentation0004" look like "stevesonsteelpipesalespresentation0004." 

6. Relevant party initials.

It can be handy to see who either created the file or for whom it is most relevant. In order to list this information, listing the full initials of the relevant party may be beneficial. If two people who work closely together share the same initials, establish an agreed-upon protocol.

7. Consistency is king.

What is covering your legs? Some say "pants." Others say "trousers." If you refer to one, but the only results are for the other, you're going to have problems. The same goes for your naming preferences. Once you choose a file name structure protocol, make it the law of the land. The more consistent your file naming protocol is, the easier it will be to locate files you need in a timely fashion.

8. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Long convoluted file names seem like they provide additional information. In reality, longer file names greatly complicate searching for the proper files. Keep your file names short and to the point. For example, 2020.06.09-steveson-pres-pfd-KJL-0004 tells us the date, the file content, the file type, the relevant party, and the version. 

Here’s to more organized file names going forward!

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