Organising data

The way you organise your research data files has implications for the way you access, sort, and use them. This page contains information on:

File naming

The most important thing about file naming is consistency. Select an appropriate naming convention for your files as early as possible and stick to it throughout your research.

Choose useful keywords that you or others might use to search for your files, separating each word or section with a hyphen or underscore. Document the keywords you choose to use, so that you can interpret your file names later. Useful keywords may include:

  • project acronym
  • type of data
  • researcher initials
  • date
  • location
  • subject
  • conditions


Consider how your storage system will sort and display your files when you name them. For example:

  • Start your title with the date, formatted as YYYYMMDD, to display your files in chronological order.
  • Prefix your file titles with numbers, such as 01, 02, etc. to force a specific sort order.


The software or computing environments you work with may impose technical restrictions on how you name your files.

  • Don’t manually change or delete the file extension suffix (e.g. .docx, .pdf, .csv) which is usually generated automatically.
  • Avoid the use of special characters, apart from hyphens and underscores, in file names.
  • Don’t make file names too long.

File structure

  • Keep your raw data in a separate folder from your working data.
  • Store consent forms separately for ethics and privacy reasons.
  • Co-locate files to make them easier to use with your software tools, e.g. store script files and data files in the same folder.
  • Nest your folders in the direction that best suits to how you plan to use them, e.g. FacilityA > Interviews or Interviews > FacilityA.
  • Don’t create too many empty folders ahead of time.
  • Don’t set up a folder hierarchy that’s deeper than you really need.
  • If you’re collaborating, try to agree on a common folder structure that makes sense to everyone.

Versioning

Some storage systems enable automatic versioning. Alternatively, you can use a version control table to thoroughly document the versioning process. If necessary, you can use manual versioning by adding version terms to the file name, such as:

  • author name or initials
  • date last modified
  • version number

For advanced versioning needs, consider version control software such as Git or Mercurial.