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Research Data Management: Data Organisation

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

At a Glance

Research data files and folders need to be organised in a systematic and consistent way so that they are easy to find, both for you and others in your research team.​

  • Consistent file naming
  • A meaningful folder structure
  • Version control

File Naming

Research data files and folders should be labelled and organised in a systematic and consistent way so that they are easy to find, both for you and others in your research team. There is no one recommended way to name your files and folders, but consistency is key.

It’s generally useful to aim for file and folder names which are concise, but informative – it makes life easier if you can tell what’s in a file without having to open it. 

Elements of a file name can include:

  • A project acronym
  • Content description
  • File type information
  • Date (YYYY-MM-DD)
  • Creator name or initials
  • Version number
  • Status info, e.g. draft

Operating systems usually default to sorting files alphabetically, so it can be helpful to think about what comes at the start of the file name – is it more useful to order the files by date, by author, or by subject, for example?

  • Be consistent!
  • Meaningful but brief
  • Use lowercase letters and avoid spaces
  • Use - or _

The benefit of consistent naming of data files is that it is easier to identify all files connected to one data collection event (e.g. one interview). The files related to one collection event (e.g. audio tape, its transcription and photographs that were taken by the interviewee) can be connected by the file name.

Example:

  • 20190311_interview2_audio.wav
  • 20190311_interview2_trans.txt
  • 20190311_interview2_image.jpg

Folder Structures

Similar to consistent file naming conventions, having a meaningful folder structure will make it much easier for you to locate relevant documents easily. If you are working in a research group this need for a consistent structure becomes even more important.

The decision on how to organise your data files depends on the plan and organisation of the study. All material relevant to the data should be entered into the data folders, including detailed information on the data collection and data processing procedures.

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

Version Control

Managing different versions of your data can be achieved by:

  • Uniquely identifying different versions of files using a systematic naming convention, such as using version numbers or dates
    • Record the date within the file: 20190902_documentation_for_my_data
    • Include a version number in the file name: Documentation_v2
    • Include information about the status of the file, e.g. "draft" or "final," as long as you don't end up with confusing names like "final2" or "final_revised".
    • Include information about what changes were made, e.g. "cropped" or "normalized".
  • Using version control facilities within the software you use
  • Using file-sharing services with incorporated version control
  • Designing and using a version control table

 

File name

Changes to file

Interviewschedule_1.0

Original document

Interviewschedule_1.1

Minor revisions made

Interviewschedule_1.2

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Interviewschedule_2.0

Substantive changes