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7 Tips to Name Computer Files so You Can Find Them Again

It happened again last week. A client contacted me in a panic. She and her co-author are writing a 300+ page how-to book and realized they had multiple versions of the same book and neither knew who had the most up-to-date version of the book. They were staring down the possibility of going through multiple versions of the book page by page to create a current version. That could easily take 15 – 20 hours and they’re on a tight deadline. Ewwww!

Fortunately, Microsoft Word has a Compare Documents feature and I was able to show them how to compare and combine all the versions they have to create one file. This process will take them about 5 hours but the whole thing could have been avoided in the first place if they’d come to an agreement at the beginning of the writing process about how they were going to name files and how to share control over the master document.

If you haven’t had the problem my client did, I’m willing to bet you’ve had a different problem. A file name that made sense last time you worked on a document, has totally escaped you and you have no idea what you called it or where you put it. You then waste several minutes trying to find it. If you’re lucky, it turns up. If you’re not, you have to start all over again.

In order to find what you’re looking for, you need a system for naming and organizing files and folders. Although naming files and organizing them are closely related topics, I’ve written 2 blog posts to make the topic easier to digest. In this blog post, I focus on how to name files so you can find the one you want. In the next blog post, I’ll show you how to organize your folders so you can remember where you saved your well-named files.

Tips for Naming Files for Easy Identification

The client I mentioned above is working on the second version of her very successful book, Surviving Natural Disasters. We recently completed a free ebook, How to Prepare for Natural Disasters, to help promote the book. If you’re interested, you can download it at www.survivngnaturaldisastersbook.com. I mention this because I will use her book as an example below.

Tip #1: Start with a brief title that quickly identifies the topic. I suggested starting the file name with “SND” to represent the book title “Surviving Natural Disasters”. That way she can easily identify the topic of the file. When you write several different types of media on the same topic, you might want to identify the type of media your file is. For example, when we worked on the free eBook, the file name started with “SNDebook”. The decision to include media type will also depend on what folder you put the file in. We’ll go into more detail about that in the next blog post on organizing folders.

Tip #2: Give the document a version number. The file name for the first version of Surviving Natural Disasters is “SNDbook_v1”. When I make major changes to a document such as adding sections, moving sections or deleting content, I save the file as a new document with a new version number. Part of why I do this is because it’s hard to delete your precious words and if you know you’ve got them in a previous version you are more likely to make those hard but necessary cuts.

Tip #3: Give the file a revision number. When making relatively minor changes such as spelling or punctuation corrections and minor formatting changes, I suggest assigning a revision number. For example, the file name for the second version, third revision of the Surviving Natural Disasters book would be “SNDbook_v2_r3.doc”.

Tip #4: Add dates in reverse chronological order. Sometimes it makes sense to add a date to a file name. I do that in reverse order, year/month/day. For example, October, 15, 2010 would be 101015. It takes a little getting used to but I do that because when you do it year, month, day, the most recent date is at the top of the list and the rest are in reverse chronological order.

Tip #5: Use an underscore or hyphen in a file name instead of a space. I recommend doing this because when you upload a file to the internet, the internet can’t handle blank spaces. The internet inserts %20 where it finds a blank space which makes file names hard to read.

Tip #6: Do not use periods in a file name other than right before the file extension. The file extension tells your computer what type of file it’s dealing with. For example, a Word document will end in “.doc” and an Excel file will end with “.xls”. If you add periods in your file name, such as “SND.ebook.v1.doc” it can confuse your computer. Use hyphens or underscores instead.

Tip #7: For multiple authors, add initials. Some of my clients like to put initials in the file name so they can see who edited that particular file.

What do you get?
So if you put all this together, the file name “SNDbook_101015_v1_r2_jc.doc” tells you “This file is the first version, second revision of the Surviving Natural Disasters book and it was edited by Joe Client on October 15, 2010.” That’s a lot of information to pack into a file name!

Have any tips? I’d love to know what you do to organize your own information.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 4th, 2010 at 10:08 am and is filed under Managing Data. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “7 Tips to Name Computer Files so You Can Find Them Again”

  1. Paul Doyle says:

    thanku i am a student studying IT and this has helped me a lot.

  2. Natalia says:

    On tip no.4: It’s true! I’ve been using the reverse order for ages and now do it automatically every time I work on a project. My usual file name also contains the language, e.g.:
    In case I’ve got lots of various files in the same project folder, I sometimes add another mark: filename_Eng_ORIGINAL.doc (or INI for initial). Another mark is ED for edited (same as ready). Of course, each expert has their own system of file naming depending on what they do.

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