Organising and describing files

File plans

There are many "right" ways of organising your files so think about what makes sense for your research.

For example, if you're doing experimental work, you might want to organise the results into folders by the date you conducted the experiment or by a key experimental condition.

For a small number of files, longer, more descriptive titles can be useful. (But don't go crazy: try to keep the whole name on the screen). If you have a large number of files to manage, check out this guide to file naming from JISC Digital Media.

However you choose to arrange your files, make sure you write down what you've decided in an index file.  (A Word or text document is great for this index file, that you keep along side the other files). This only takes a few minutes, but can save hours of searching later. You many need to update your index file  as your research develops.  Make sure that you reorganise the files if you need to so that the index still represents reality.

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Describing data

You also need to ensure that you keep enough information to interpret the data. If it's never happened to you, you'd be amazed how quickly data becomes unusable because key details of the context have been forgotten.

Whatever you need to make sense of your data, you should keep this with the data files themselves. This could be reactant concentrations and temperatures, details of how a sample was chosen.

For lab-based research, this is often recorded in the lab notebook, so make sure this is kept safe. Record the lab notebook page number with the data files, and if possible, scan the page(s) in and keep them with the data too. Even if you're not based in a lab, you may have a research journal that you can use in the same way.

This information also helps when deciding ownership and assigning credit, so make sure you keep a note of who collected the data and when, especially if it's not you.

If it's relevant for your research, you should also keep safe copies of any legal documentation, such as consent forms or COSSH forms. Your research group, lab or department may have an existing filing system for this, so ask your supervisor.

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Tips and tricks

Sorting by filename

Files in a folder are usually shown sorted by name. You can take advantage of this to have your files appear in a consistent order.

  • Filenames starting with special characters such as @ will appear first, followed by numbers, then the letters A--Z;
  • To have files appear in date order, name them starting with the date in the format "yyyy-mm-dd".

For example, you might use this to arrange your files as follows:

  • @Index.docx 2012-03-07

  • Interview with Subject A.mp3 2012-03-07

  • Interview transcript Subject A.docx 2012-04-22

  • Interview with Subject B.mp3 2012-04-22

  • Interview transcript Subject B.docx

  • Interview plan.doc

  • Summary.docx


In many disciplines, webpages or books exist which give recommendations on how to conduct research in a manner which generates effective documentation and well-organised data. We recommend:


For the social sciences:



Please let us know if you have further suggestions



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