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Research Data Services

Naming files

Establishing file naming conventions and folder hierarchies at the beginning of a research project will make it easier for you and your collaborators to navigate and find specific files, and avoid file duplication and accidental deletion. The most important rule is to be consistent. Best practices include:

  • Keeping files names short but meaningful
  • Using capital letters to delimit words, avoiding spaces, hyphens and underscores
  • Avoiding the use of non-alphanumeric characters
  • Denoting dates using the "YYYYMMDD" format

For further guidance and examples of best practices, see Stanford Libraries guide.

Organizing files

A well structured file hierarchy will make it easier to locate and share your files. Some recommended practices include:

  • Restrict level of folders to three or four deep
  • Consider limiting the number of folders within each folder to ten
  • Include a folder within the folder structure for “documentation”. This might include:
    • Project proposals/protocols
    • Consent and approval forms
    • Methodology documents
    • Data management plans
    • Code used for analysis and outputs
    • Codebooks or guides

See an example of folder hierarchy from the UK Data Service.


Version control should be used where more than one version of a document exists, or where this is likely to be the case in the future. Developing a version control strategy is important for keep track of changes throughout a research project.

Consider following a Version Control Chart (University of Leicester)

  • To ensure identifiability version information should be included as part of both the file name, and within the document itself, alongside the date, author and filename (or full file path).
  • Each successive draft of a document is numbered sequentially from 0-1, 0-2, 0-3… until a finalised or approved version is complete (although full stops will be used ordinarily within numbering, dashes are shown here e.g. 0-1 to indicate how numbering should be applied to electronic filenames).
  • The first final/approved version should be numbered 1-0.
  • If version 1-0 is revised, drafts are numbered as 1-1, 1-2… until version 2-0 is complete, and so on.

For further guidance and examples of best practices, consult the UK Data Service guide.

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