With a data inventory for your research project, you will be more easily able to develop strong organizational methods for your data. Having good methods for file naming and organization is one of the simplest and most impactful things you can do to manage your data, and is something that funders look for in a data management plan. While good data organization practices are necessary to manage your data well, this should not be an overly detailed section of your DMP. You do want to consider who in your lab or research team will be responsible for managing the organization of your research data – the roles on a research project is a topic that funders are increasingly asking. Naming your files consistently and accurately will simplify searching for files, distinguishing versions from one another, working with, and sharing files.

File naming

  • Each project and person are different, and there is not one file-naming format that will work for every researcher or every project, but we recommend the following general guidelines.
    • Be brief. The best practice is to pick 3-4 key pieces of information about the file for the file name, and to indicate the version of the file (e.g., v1, v2, FINAL, etc.). It is also extremely important not to use spaces when naming files. For more information and an example file name, see our File Naming and Versioning page.

File versioning

  • Version control, also known as “file versioning”, is when you save an updated file as a new file instead of overwriting the old file. This lets you “revert” back to an earlier version if needed. While this process can be done by hand it is much easier (and safer) to have a machine assist you. For more information about file versioning, see the File Naming and Versioning page on our website.

File organization

  • Establishing a well-organized hierarchical folder structure that aligns with your file-naming conventions is a key tenet of a file management strategy
  • How to structure folders and how many folders you should have will vary from project to project, but the trick is to create a structure that balances breadth and depth: try to limit the number of top level folders you create and try to limit the number of nested folders. Having too layered of a file hierarchy will make it difficult to access the data files, but having too many files in a folder will make it difficult to find data files.
  • Sample file structure:



















Writing Prompts:

  • Will you be using version control?
  • Will you use standards to keep data organized?

This content was adapted from Iowa State University Library’s Data Management Plan Guide.