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Research Data Management

This guide provides information on how to better manage and share research data in any discipline.

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A File Naming Convention (FNC) is a framework for naming files so that they describe what the files contain and how they relate to other files.  Developing an FNC is done through identifying the key elements of a project, what are the differences and commonalities between your files? These elements could include: 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. Using unique and standardized filenames is an advantage because it allows you to follow path names and link to other systems that require unique filenames. 


Effective file naming conventions is an investment of time and effort but they do save time / effort in the long run.  There are no perfect file naming conventions, but there are some basic rules:

  • Balance components in your FNC: too 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 entries ("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 everyone who needs to use the FNC is aware and knows how to apply it.

Best Practices for File Naming

Understanding files and what they contain are impacted by how they are organized and named.  Well named files are easier to find!  Be descriptive and consistent in how you name and organize your files, this will help when you need to find specific data.  Choose a format for naming your files and be consistent in how you use it.  You can include any information that will allow you to distinguish your files from one another but including some of the following information could be useful:

  • Project / experiment name / acronym
  • Location / spatial coordinates
  • Researcher name / initials
  • Date or date range
  • Type of data
  • Conditions
  • Version number of file
  • Three-letter file extension for application-specific files

Another good idea is to include in the directory a readme.txt file that explains your naming format along with any abbreviations or codes you have used.

File Naming: Other Tips

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.

  • A good format for date designations is YYYYMMDD or YYMMDD.
  • Try not to make file names too long, since long file names do not work well with all types of software.
  • Special characters should be avoided.
  • When using a sequential numbering system, using leading zeros for clarity and to make sure files sort in sequential order.
  • Avoid using spaces.
  • Other options include:
    • Underscores, e.g.
    • Dashes, e.g.
    • No separation, e.g.
    • Camel case, where the first letter of each section of text is capitalized, e.g.


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.

File Formats

File Formats

The file format is the principal factor in the ability for others to use your data in the future.  You need to plan for software and hardware obsolescence since technology continually changes.  How will others use your data if the software used to produce is no longer available?  You may want to consider migrating your files to a format with the characteristics listed below and keep a copy in the original format.

Formats most likely to be accessible in the future include:

  • Non-proprietary, not tied to a specific software product
  • Unencrypted
  • Uncompressed
  • Common, used by the research community
  • Standard representation, such as ASCII, Unicode
  • Open, documented standard

Examples of preferred formats:

  • PDF/A, not Word
  • ASCII, not Excel
  • MPEG-4, not Quicktime
  • TIFF or JPEG2000, not GIF or JPEG
  • XML or RDF, not RDBMS

Bulk Renaming Tools

Renaming files makes for easier data management.  If you have a lot of files, try one of the following applications: