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Research Data Management: File Structures

Bringing together University resources and services to facilitate researchers in the production of high quality data.

File Structures

  • Most operating systems default to a hierarchical file structure – files inside folders, which may be nested inside other folders. This is great if your material can easily be grouped into relatively discrete categories.
  • In planning a hierarchical folder structure, aim for a balance between breadth and depth – so no one category gets too big, but also so that you don’t have to click through endless folders to find a file.
  • In some cases, it may be more helpful to use a tag-based system – where each file is assigned one or more tags, or labels. This makes it easier to have overlapping categories, and files can be categorised in multiple ways simultaneously (by subject, by author, and by the project it relates to, for example). Some modern operating systems will allow you to add tags to files; file tagging software is also available.
  • So files can be organised to facilitate sorting (hierarchical file structure) or tagged to facilitate searching.

Example Folder Structure

In this example, data and documentation files are held in separate folders. Data files are further organised according to data type and then according to research activity. Documentation files are organised also according to type of documentation file and research activity.

It helps to restrict the level of folders to three or four deep and not to have more than ten items in each list: