Organize Your Data

As important as it is to document your data, keeping your data and other files organized is critical, particularly if you are working within a team. In addition to recording project-level information about your data, you should develop procedures for naming and organizing individual files.


Below are some suggestions for developing file and directory naming conventions, but consistently using the standards you develop is more important than the details of the standards. Be sure that the conventions you set are reasonably easy to follow, and check periodically to ensure that all members of your team are adhering to them.

Directory Structure Naming Conventions

When organizing files, directory top-level folder should include the project title, unique identifier, and date (year). The substructure should have a clear, documented naming convention; for example, each run of an experiment, each version of a dataset, and/or each person in the group.

File Naming Conventions

Name files so that you know what is in them without having to open them. Consider including information like the project acronym, study title, location, investigator and data type. Decide ahead of time how versions will be indicated: by date? by a suffix (e.g. '_v2')?


An example of a good data file name: Sevilleta_LTER_NM_2001_NPP.csv:

  • Sevilleta_LTER is the project name
  • NM is the abbrevation for the state in which the data were collected
  • 2001 is the calendar year in which the data were collected
  • NPP represents the data type (Net Primary Productivity data)
  • csv is the file type (ASCII comma separated values)


Avoid file names like mydata.dat, 1998.xls or output.txt.

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