File Naming Rules To Help In Personal Data Organisation

Hard copies of files are stored with established rules, yet very few organisations have policies for naming and storage of electronic files. Everybody stores and names files on their PC as per their understanding, which is okay as long as the files are used frequently by just a single person. The problem arises when a file needs to be retrieved after a considerable time and we are uncertain of the file name. Worse still if it is to be shared in the event of a handover.

An established filing protocol will get our own personal workspace organised. Personal or official, following some basic rules while organising and naming files will go a long way in improving our efficiency, which is ultimately what we are aiming for. Our file naming convention should help in the following ways:

  • Retrieving files, since the consistent organising logic will help in remembering their location and names
  • Identifying file contents at a glance without having to open each one individually
  • Sorting files in a desirable sequence
  • Facilitating searching, by narrowing the search area and minimising the search results.

The following rules if kept in mind while naming files will help in the ways listed above:

  1. When dates are are important or files should sort chronologically, start the file name with the date in YYYYMMDD format. Then files will stay in chronological order even over many years. When files need to be identified by time use the HHMM format.
  2. When it is important for files to be listed sequentially, prefix a number. Start with leading zeroes 01, 02 ,03, etc. instead of 1,2,3,4,5,etc. this will ensure they sort correctly.
  3. The file name should be descriptive yet short. It must be descriptive enough to be able to identify the contents of the the file without having to open it.
  4. Keep names short. In addition to it being easier to read, long file paths may hinder copying, renaming and moving of such files.As the files get deeper in the filing system and further down under layers of subfolders, any changes to the file structure may give the error, “exceed the maximum allowable path length”. If you miss the error message you may not even realise the problem exists, especially when dealing with numerous files. A hot fix may resolve this but that is another kettle of fish. Additionally long file names do not work well with all types of software.File names can be shortened in the following manner:
    • Use standard abbreviation to shorten words.
    • Do not use spaces between words, after all a space is a character too.
    • Use CamelCase. i.e., First alphabet of the word capitalised without spaces between words.
  1. Files that need to be revised without overwriting the previous work should be suffixed with a version number, e.g., V1, V2, V3, etc.
  2. Use an underscore (_) between elements of the file name. The underscore is a character that is easy to identify visually, and is already commonly used to as a delimiter.

A delimiter is a sequence of one or more characters used to specify the boundary between separate, independent regions in plain text or other data streams. An example of a delimiter is the comma, which acts as a field delimiter in a sequence of comma-separated values.

Delimiter – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  1. Special characters such as ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ` ; < > ? , [ ] { } ‘ ” and | should be avoided.
  2. The dash (-) is an easily identifiable character and can be used in as a delimiter within elements. Examples:
  • File-FolderRenamingRules.txt
  • 20160121-0930_File-FolderRenamingRules.txt (YYYYMMDD-HHSS_FileName)
  1. Since files in different folders will be named differently as per the way they need to be organised , it is helpful to also include a NOTES.txt file in the folder. To explain the naming convention followed for that folder along with any abbreviations or codes used.

To sum up, a file name is made up of three elements a date or sequence number to help in sorting, a descriptive yet short name and if required, a version number. Each element is separated by an underscore (_). Use CamelCase in the name and a dash (-) within each element to indicate sections. Include a NOTES.txt file in the folder to make a note of the file naming rules followed in that folder. The same rules can be adapted for folders too, for a broader data management system on our Personal Computers. To rename old files in bulk, Bulk Rename Utility a free programme for Windows can be used.


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