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Introduction to Data Management for Undergraduate Students: File Naming Conventions

This guide covers the basics and best practices for data management for individuals who are new to the research and data-collecting process.

What is a File Naming Convention?

A File Naming Convention (FNC) is a framework for naming your files in a way that describes what they contain and how they relate to other files.

It is essential to establish a FNC before you begin collecting data to prevent against a backlog of unorganized files that could lead to misplaced or lost data. Deciding on a FNC within is a group is helpful for effective communication and consistency in your work. Consider the important elements of your research in order to establish meaningful file names (date of creation, version of file, project title etc.).

FNC Resources

Data Nudge: Tips for Your File Names

Check out the Data Nudge from February 2018 for a quick overview of this topic!

File Naming Conventions

When you're working, you may not always think about how you name your files. You may end up with a folder that looks like this:


XKCD comic depicting a person overlooking another person on their computer. The observing person sees the other's file naming conventions (example: Untitled 40 mom address.jpg) and responds with "oh my god".

Source: xkcd


Thankfully, there are many ways to name your files. To start, you can choose from the elements below that are meaningful to you and your project:

  • Project lead's last name or initials

  • File creator's last name or initials

  • Project name/acronym

  • Date file created/generated (in YYYY-MM-DD format)

  • Version number (with leading zeroes)


Use the File Structure and Naming Prompt Sheet from the Research Data Service to design a directory structure that sorts and organizes your project's files in a way that works for you.Work with a team? Bring the File Structure and Naming Prompt Sheet to your next meeting and work collaboratively to come up with a structure everyone can use.