File naming standards: eliminate future headaches

There are a lot of reasons that file naming standards should be your best friends. They are rad, responsible, and reliable. Just like the three R’s of old.

But most importantly – you will not run into problems opening your files on another computer, uploading them to Canvas, or attaching them to an email. The reason? By following the tenets listed below, you have significantly decreased the chances of the file becoming corrupted or unusable. Go you!

Adapted from the University of Stanford’s list, here are some best practices to follow when naming your files:

  • Never use special characters – such as  ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ` ; < > ? , [ ] { } ‘ ” and |. Avoid at all costs! If you’re not capitalizing a letter or generating an underscore, you shouldn’t be hitting the shift key. 
  • Keep it chronological. Using the format YYYYMMDD or YYMMDD ensures all of your files stay in chronological order, for years to come.
  • Keep names as short as possible. Depending on the software, longer file names may not work or be recognized.
  • Use zeros to ensure numerical order. When using a sequential numbering system, using leading zeros for clarity and to make sure files sort in sequential order. For example, use “001, 002, …010, 011 … 100, 101, etc.” instead of “1, 2, …10, 11 … 100, 101, etc.”
  • Do not use spaces. Some software on sites will not recognize file names with spaces. Try using these methods to denote spaces:
    • Underscores, e.g. file_name.xxx
    • Dashes, e.g. file-name.xxx
    • No separation, e.g. filename.xxx
    • Camel case, where the first letter of each section of text is capitalized, e.g. FileName.xxx

Further reading: Case Studies: File Naming from the Stanford Libraries website

Across the pond: Naming Files and Folders from the University of Leicester website

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