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Research Data Management for the Health Sciences: File Naming

Research data is becoming increasingly important. This Medical Library guide will introduce you to research data management skills, and connect you to relevant services and resources across the Yale Campus.

File Naming Best Practises

  • Create unique file names.  
  • File names should be simple and easy to understand. 
  • Use only alpha-numeric characters.  Avoid using special characters such as: ? / $ % & ^ # . \ : < >.  Special characters are often reserved for use by the operating system. 
  • Use underscores (_) and dashes (-) to represent spaces.  Spaces are often reserved for operating system functions and might be misread. 
  • Use leading zeros with the numbers 0-9 to facilitate proper sorting and file management. 
  • Dates should follow the ISO 8601 standard of YYYY_MM_DD or YYYYMMDD.  Variations include YYYY, YYYY-MM, YYYY-YYYY.  This maintains chronological order.  If dates of creation are used, these can make following retention schedules easier.
  • Keep the file name as short as possible and always include the three character file extension preceded with a period (Ex: .jpg or .doc). 
  • Include the version number in the file name by using ‘v’ or ‘V’ and the version number at the end of the document.  (Ex: 2004_Notes_v01.doc)  Avoid using the word version or draft and the beginning of the file name for access purposes (Ex: Version1_2004_Notes.doc). 
  • Order the pieces of information or elements being used to create the file name in the most logical order based on retrieval methods. 
    • For example, use the date first on events that are time specific or reoccurring, and use the name of the event for events that are infrequent and will be easier to find by name rather than date. 



Creating Descriptive File Names

When developing your file naming policy, you may wish to include some of the following common elements in the file name:

  • Version number (e.g., version 1 [v1, vers1])
  • Date of creation (e.g., February 24, 2001 [022401, 02_24_01])
  • Name of creator (e.g., Rupert B. Smith [RBSmith, RBS])
  • Description of content (e.g., media kit [medkit, mk])
  • Name of intended audience (e.g., general public [pub])
  • Name of group associated with the record (e.g., Committee ABC [CommABC])
  • Release date (e.g., released on June 11, 2001 at 8:00 a.m. central time [61101_0800CT])
  • Publication date (e.g., published on December 24, 2003 [pub122403])
  • Project number (e.g., project number 739 [PN739])
  • Department number (e.g., Department 140 [Dept140])
  • Records series (e.g., SeriesX)