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Data Management Toolkit @ UNH

This toolkit provides information to help researchers develop data management plans and effectively manage their research data.

File naming

The information on this page will help you organize your datasets for your own use. You may want to consider using more sophisticated name schema if you are collaborating or want to share your data.  Researchers working together should agree on some basic rules for naming folders and files.

File Naming Conventions

The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources (pdf) provides a helpful list of file naming best practices:

  • Avoid using special characters in a file name. \ / : * ? “ < > | [ ] & $ , .
  • Use underscores (_) instead of periods or spaces to separate terms.
  • Err on the side of brevity. Try to keep file names under 25 characters.
  • The file name should include all necessary descriptive information independent of where it
    is stored. Files may be moved from their original location.  Identify the activity or project in the file name
  • Include dates and format them consistently (for example, YYYY_MM_DD or YYYYMMDD).
  • To more easily manage drafts and revisions, include a version number on
  • Make files sortable and findable.
  • Be consistent!
  • There will be exceptions. 

File Naming Conventions for Specific Disciplines

Many disciplines have recommendations, for example:

File Renaming

If you already have lots of files named, you can use free tools to help you:

Folder structure

When organizing files, avoid complex folder structures - create a logical and manageable structure for your folders and subfolders.

Determine the level of granularity of your folders - to avoid the over use of folders, consider using information-rich file names.  

Think about how people will need to search for files and how often new folders will need to be created - this can influence folder direction. 

Clearly document the folder hierarchy rules and naming convention - file naming best practices also apply to folder naming.

Sreadsheets and data files

The goal of data entry is to create valid datasets that are organized to support ease of use.  Some best practices for spreadsheets and data files inlcude:

  • Create only one table per spreadsheet and enter data consistently. Do not leave empty rows or columns.
  • Enter data using consistent formats. For example, always use the same formats for dates.
  • Name columns consistently and without spaces or special characters.
  • Order similar columns in multiple tables in a similar way.
  • Use consistent formats, codes, spellings, etc. and do not mix data types in a single column.
  • Store data in a format that will be accessibly by any (or many) applications now or in the future.
  • Keep your raw data raw. Make a copy in another file for doing calculations and manipulations

(DataONE Education Module: Data Entry and Manipulation.

Version control

Version control helps with collaborative editing, coordinating teams, and maintaining a history of progress. 

Keeping track of changes to documents, code, and datasets is critical. Strategies include:

Record every change to a file no matter how small. Discard obsolete versions after making backups.

More about organizing data

For more guidance on organizing data, check out these guides: