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Research Data Management for Health Sciences

Best Practices for File Naming and Organization

  • Use non-proprietary, open-source, standard formats. Recommended file formats.
  • Decide on conventions for file naming and file organization and write them down (README.txt).
  • Use consistently and ensure everyone in the group is using the same.
  • Use a version control system.


  • In your project-wide README.txt list all separate locations (computers, servers, services) where data for the project live, including backups.
  • A README file should include:
    • Basic information about the project (title, contributors, grant info, etc)
    • Contact information for at least one person on the project
    • Useful information about the files and how they’re organized

File Naming Conventions

  • Identify the activity or project in the file name.
  • Date your files in the file name.
  • Reserve the 3-letter file extension for application-specific codes, for example, formats like .wrl, .mov, and .tif.
  • Don't use auto generated file names.

File Version Naming Conventions

  • Record date in file name or within file.
  • Add version number in file name (i.e.: v1, v2, v3 or 00.01, 01.00).
  • Create a file history, version control table or notes included within a file. Version control table example from UK Data Archive.
  • Adding a version description in file name or within file (draft, final) is not recommended. See phdcomics example.

Examples of Recommended File Directory Structures

  • One project, one folder (for small projects)
  • Separate folders for data or project stages
  • Separate folders for different types of data
  • Date-based foldering (pairs well with a lab notebook!)
  • If all else fails, put a README.txt in each folder. 

The substructure should have a clear, documented naming convention; for example, each run of an experiment, each version of a dataset, and/or each person in the group.