File Naming Conventions

What are file naming conventions?

To ensure maximum access to your records, establish a naming convention for your files and use it consistently. Make sure that your file names are descriptive and provide contextual information that allows the file to be identified outside of the folder where it is located, and document your file naming procedures to ensure others in your lab or department are employing the same conventions. If the file is moved or shared, users will be able to identify the file from its file name.

Tips for File Naming

  • The computer arranges files by name, character by character. Therefore, put the most important information first. If you anticipate wanting to find a file by date, then put the date first.
    • Consider including a combination of the following information:
      • Experiment conditions
      • Type of data
      • Researcher name/initials
      • Lab name/location
      • Project or experiment name or acronym
  • Date or date range of experiment.
    • A good format for date designations is YYYYMMDD. This format makes sure all of your files stay in chronological order. To add a timestamp to your filename, use the format YYYYMMDDThhmm. Use 24-hour military time to avoid any confusion over a.m./p.m.
  • When using a sequential numbering system, use leading zeros for clarity and to make sure files sort in sequential order. For example, use "001, 002, ...010, 011 ... 100, 101 ..." instead of "1, 2, ...10, 11 ... 100, 101 ..."
  • Version number of file.
    • Use versioning to indicate the most current version of a file, e.g.
  • Try not to make file names too long; operating systems have different limits to the number of characters. As a general rule, try to aim for a 40-50 character limit.
  • If you find that you are encoding a large amount of metadata in the file names, you should consider storing this metadata in a master spreadsheet that can be stored with your data for future reference.
  • Avoid special characters, such as:  ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ` ; : < > ? . , [ ] { } ' " |
  • Do not use spaces as some software will not recognize file names with spaces. File names with spaces must be enclosed in quotes when using the command line. Other options include:
    • Underscores, e.g.
    • Dashes, e.g.
    • No separation, e.g.
    • Camel case, where the first letter of each section of text is capitalized, e.g.
  • Do not use carriage returns in file names.
  • Reference to lab notebook record.


Files with no naming convention:

  • Test data 2016.xlsx

  • Meeting notes Jan 17.doc

  • Notes Eric.txt

  • Final FINAL last version.docx

Files with a naming convention:

  • 20160104_ProjectA_Ex1Test1_SmithE_v1.xlsx

  • 20160104_ProjectA_MeetingNotes_SmithE_v2.docx

  • ExperimentName_InstrumentName_CaptureTime_ImageID.tif

File Renaming Tips

For Mac:

  1. In the Finder, select and highlight the files you want to change using Shift or Command.
  2. Right click/Control + click on the selected files and choose “Rename X Items”.
  3. Select one of the rename options: swap out text, add a set text, or apply a custom sequential format.

For Windows: 

  1. In the File Manager, select and highlight the files you want to change using Shift or Control. 
  2. Right click on the selected files and choose “Rename”. 
  3. One of the file names will become active for editing. 
  4. Enter a systematic file name and press enter. 
  5. All files will be renamed using the chosen file name and numbered sequentially (1) (2), etc.

File Renaming Tools

Last Updated: 2020-05-12