Have you ever tried to organise your files by date to find that the order is incorrect due to the way you have written the date in the file name? Or are you guilty of naming final drafts "...final.doc" "...finalfinal.doc" "finalfinalabsolute.doc" ?
The Software Carpentry 'Data Management' video below gives a good introduction to file naming, folder structure and versioning and how they relate to each other.
Being able to locate your files and use them is a key aspect of good research data management, particularly when working collaboratively. It is good practice to decide on a strategy for naming your files at the beginning of the project. This can also help with versioning and help to mitigate mistakes. Stanford Libraries have a good guide to file naming practices on their web pages.
The name should help to describe the file so name files purposefully in respect to their content or their role in your work, as opposed to using individual's names or document types.
Try to keep the name concise- 25 characters or less.
Certain software and different operating systems have restrictions on characters that can be used within a file name. To ensure interoperability, avoid using spaces in file names and special characters such as: * : \ / < > | " ? [ ] ; = + & £ $ , .
If you are collaborating, decide on a protocol for file naming to help keep things consistent then stick to your protocol! You can document your protocol in your data management plan.
For dates, put them in YYYY_MM_DD order at the beginning of the file/folder name.
Folder structure can greatly affect your efficiency when dealing with your data and it is particularly important to made a decision on folder structure when working collaboratively. If you are joining a team, there may be existing protocols and folder structure in place that you will have to follow.
There are 3 main common-sense tips for organising your folder structure.
1. Decide on a hierarchy that fits your project and needs-
For example, will you have a lot of types of file and want to look for files of a type, such as interviews, transcripts, videos?
Alternatively, will you want to find files by which stage of a process you are at, such as initial data collection, cleaning, analysis?
Would it be best to keep documentation with the files it refers to, or in a separate folder?
2. Name folders appropriately, referring to the guidance given for file naming.
3. Separate active and completed files- consider a different secure storage location for files you no longer need if there are too many of these.
Once you've made a decision, you will want to consider writing this up in a README file that can be viewed by those adding files/editing them so that your structure can be consistently applied.
The Consortium of European Social Sciences Data Archives [CESSDA] have created some useful guidance on designing a data file structure, which may be of use.
If you are using a Research Site, you will need to configure your site and library and add metadata to files to make them easy to filter and find. The Research Area column in the example library (shown below) demonstrates metadata that this site is using to sort and search files.