File Names

File names are frequently overlooked, but are key to locating and retrieving files efficiently, especially for complex or collaborative projects.

Adopting a consistent, logical and descriptive file naming convention is good practice and will assist with data analyses and re-use.

Abbreviations and codes can be used, providing they are clear and uniformly applied. If necessary include a README.txt file in the directory (folder) that explains the naming format and any abbreviations or codes used.

File names can include information such as:

  • Project or experiment name or acronym
  • Researcher name/initials
  • Year or date of experiment
  • Location/spatial coordinates
  • Data type
  • File version number

The formatting of file names, file paths and field names (in databases) is very important. Poorly formatted names affect readability and can cause compatibility and processing issues i.e. when sharing data files across platforms, migrating and backing up data, working with command-line interfaces or scripting languages, web servers or URLs.

You should avoid:

  • special characters such as ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ` ; < > ? , [ ] { } ' ‘| While there are differences between the Windows and MacOS operating systems (e.g. colons cause  problems in Windows and not on Macs) it is advisable to steer clear of special characters;
  • spaces in file names. Modern systems and applications have become more lenient regarding spaces but best practice is to use underscores ( _ ), dashes ( - ), or camel case (e.g. FileName) instead, and to apply them consistently;
  • lengthy file names. For example, Windows has a 250 character limit for file paths. This includes the local drive prefix e.g. C:\Users\jc*****\OneDrive - James Cook University - so lengthy file names and/or a deep file structure can cause issues.

Some examples:

File NamesDetails
FG1_GP_20230201.docx Transcript for the first of several focus groups with general practitioners, conducted on February 1 2023
Clinical assessment (video) for adult patient ID 024, recorded June 5 2023; and
Evaluation of the clinical assessment by multiple researchers, including Aditya Sharma (AS)
Syllabus_Chemistry_TextAnalysis_v2.pdf Descriptive file name. Includes version number
LifestyleSurvey-Singapore-202309-Shared.csv Survey results with post codes and occupations removed to prevent re-identification (actions recorded in README.txt)
20230812-175923-03.tif Raw data (image) from instrument ID 03 with date and timestamp  (HHMMSS)

Renaming multiple files is onerous but there are bulk renaming utilities that can help, such as: