Records Management Tip #1: Electronic File Naming

Electronic files need clear and consistent file names, especially since they move more quickly and easily from person to person and from folder to folder. As files circulate through email and across servers, descriptive and consistent naming conventions can increase efficiency and keep you from losing files.

Below you’ll find seven rules for coming up with good electronic file names.

1. Avoid using special characters in a file name
For example: \ / : * ? “ < > | [ ] & $ , .
These characters are often used for certain tasks by certain programs. Using them could lead to file loss or file errors.

2. Use underscores instead of periods or spaces
The online environment will sometimes convert spaces used in file names into “%20.” Spaces can also lead to problems in creating links and file paths, especially when a line breaks on a space creating:

C:\Reports\UNC Budget

instead of

C:\Reports\UNC Budget Report.doc

Also, remember that periods have a specific function in file extensions.

 3. Be brief
Let 25 characters be your upper limit.

4. Be descriptive
Since files move around from folder to folder, it is important that the file name itself gives you enough of an idea of what’s inside.

 5. Include dates in the file name
Electronic records are public records and are therefore subject to the retention periods outlined by Records Management Services. Including dates in your file names can save time and headaches when cleaning out file directories. Make sure that your date format is consistent across the board (e.g., YYYY_MM_DD or YYYYMMDD).

 6. Version numbering helps organize drafts
Use the convention “v01,” “v02,” “v03” at the end of your file names to organize drafts of the same file, and it’s more effective than “updated,” “new,” or “old.” For the final draft, tack “FINAL” on the end of your file name for clarity.

 7. Consistency is key
The most important rule of file naming is be consistent. Some choices will need to be made about file naming that affects the entire office–where to include the date, what abbreviations to use, etc. Regardless of what the group decides, it is only effective if everyone follows the rules consistently.

Adapted from NCDCR’s “Best Practices for File-Naming”