How to create a successful file naming convention

A slick filing system sits at the heart of any successful project or organisation. But it doesn’t happen without some careful consideration around file naming conventions.

While we all have different ways of organising things so they make sense to us, inconsistency in a business will cause inefficiencies and put a strain on productivity.

The organisational system that you choose will influence your ability to find files, and to know what their contents will be. It helps to avoid roadblocks in workflow, communication and project deliverables. A systematic, logical filing system will also deliver the stability and reliability that your business will need as it scales.

 

What’s in a name..ing convention?

A file naming convention is a framework for naming your files in a way that explicitly describes what they contain, and how they relate to other files.

It groups similar information together, making it easy and quick to find what you’re looking for, while also helping others better navigate through your work. Because consistency is key, a naming convention gives you a common language that your business can use when referring to files and their locations.

 

Developing a file naming convention

The idea of going back and re-naming historical files is daunting, and in actually in most cases, will be unnecessary. It is however worth the investment of time and effort to better establish consistency going forward.

Begin by choosing a landmark from which to start - perhaps a new project, a new financial year or fiscal quarter - wherever it makes sense to your business to start adhering to a new filing system.

Then, determine what information about content is most important for your business to include. This will vary depending on your operations, but could include:

  • Content title
  • Date of creation or modification
  • Modification
  • Project name
  • Client name
  • Type of data

Each business will have its own preferences and operational considerations. And while there are no hard and fast rules around file naming, there are some best-practice principles that you can follow that will contribute to a smooth-running system.

 

Here are our recommended do’s and don’ts:

DO’S

  • Make it informative - Include enough elements in the name to make it immediately identifiable, but avoid using too many so that it limits discovery or understanding.
  • Use dates - Dates work well for multiple versions of a document and are natural identifiers because they will fall in chronological order when sorting. The best designation for dates is YYYMMDD.
  • Use leading zeros for clarity - If using sequential numbers, use leading zeros to ensure files continue to sort in sequential order, for example, 001, 002… 010 etc.
  • Be consistent - Maintain a consistent format, for example, starting with dates, as files will be sorted based on the first few components.

DON’TS

  • Be too general- File names should make it obvious what the file is and who it is for, and be logically aligned with your business operations or processes.
  • Use spaces or other characters - Avoid using special characters. Some software will not recognise spaces so use underscores, hyphens or camel case (where the first letter of each section is capitalised) instead.
  • Make file names too long - Long file names can become unwieldy and difficult to remember. Note that SharePoint has a URL character limit of 260 characters and 128 for file or folder names. Opt for meaningful abbreviations where necessary.

 

Communicate internally

A system only runs smoothly if it’s followed consistently by everyone. Ensuring education and maintaining awareness across your business around file naming conventions is critical to its success.

Document any necessary conventions so that all employees, existing and new, have a reference point they can call on. An option is to include a readme.text file within the directory that explains naming conventions, as well as any relevant abbreviations or codes.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but the long term benefits of a logical, systematic naming convention will be worth the time and productivity efficiencies it delivers to your teams going forward. It won’t be long before naming conventions become second nature, as the ease, convenience and confidence of a smarter system becomes motivation in itself!


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