One of the most common frustrations our customers face can feasibly be traced back to the dawn of Personal Office Computing. 1974 saw the release of the Xerox Alto, and with it the first true “problem child” of the digital age – file naming conventions.
Now, I appreciate that’s a little dramatic, but the issues faced in 1974 are not too dissimilar that those we face today. Yes, we have gigabytes more room per personal computer, and the ability to process the files has gotten exponentially better, but the variable that was at the root of the issues in 1974 is still around today – People.
Unless your organisation has a strict naming policy and software enforcement governing it, people will inherently name files, objects, etc. what they will. Being honest, I am just as big a culprit as the next employee. This can in part stem from self-taught idiosyncrasies and laziness, but it is also rooted in the lack of education or clear setting of expectations by either the organisation or system within which the person is operating.
Fortunately, there are some simple file management practices that can be invoked to combat the issue of file naming conventions. I’ve put together this article two-part article to share some of the ways we’ve helped our customers to introduce standard filing conventions and make their lives a little bit easier. My blog will cover how to name files and folders in a way that avoids confusion.
It should be noted at this point that the file naming conventions below assume you are using a Microsoft Windows operating system (OS) and a logical parent and child folder structure (folder > subfolder) on a local drive or file server. Collaborative working platforms (e.g. SharePoint) aren’t the focus of this article, but may be covered in the future.
In this two-part article, I discuss:
- Shortening filenames
- Using capital letters to separate words
- Dates within filenames
- File names with numbers (multiple digits) (part 2)
- Revision or version within a filename (part 2)
- Order of relevancy (part 2)
- Avoiding ‘undesirable’ characters (part 2)
An issue we frequently encounter when working within customers’ systems is unnecessarily long filenames. These can result in lengthy file location URLs, which can cause issues with connectivity. In Windows, generally the maximum length for a file path is 260 characters. Whilst 260 characters may feel enough, when you are working within a shared file server or NAS, it can easily become a problem threshold.
One quick win is to revise the way in which users attribute file names. Document filenames should contain enough information to identify them uniquely. This helps if they become detached from their original context (e.g. removed from the correct folder, or blind copied to an unassociated project recipient).
Expanding on industry proven standards and techniques, our approach breaks down document file names into composite, identifiable parts, and allow for the document to be recognised in isolation or at a glance.
Example Filename The_Joe_Bloggs_Commission_Scope_and_proposal.docx Shortened Filename JoeBloggsComScopePROP.docx
By removing both spaces and ‘stop words’ such as ‘the’ & ‘and’ you are removing non-contributory, and ultimately bulky, words from the filename.
It is advisable to avoid abbreviations or initials within file names, as these can often be mistranslated or misunderstood. One caveat to this is where your organisation may have commonly referred-to codes for use internally (i.e. Commission Scope and Proposal Document – CSP). This could reduce the filename further to JoeBloggsCSP.docx.
Using capital letters to separate words
Whether you are trying to open a file from the company file server, or upload that last file to the customer web-portal, some systems just don’t like spaces within file names. This, in my experience, is often down to file URL length. As we exampled within the Shortening Filenames section, removing spaces you don’t need will greatly reduce the length of the file name. Whilst this is great for systems to read, it’s not very user friendly. The use of capital letters helps alleviate this issue and allows for word differentiation.
Example Filename Joe_Bloggs_Acceptance.docx Companystandardtermsofbusiness.pdf Shortened, Delineated Filename JoeBloggsAcceptance.docx CompanyStandardTermsBusiness.pdf
As with Shortening Filenames, the removed characters and spaces reduce the filename length and the capital letters allow for easy user readability.
Dates within filenames
Where dates are required within filenames, they can often be misread by international users. For example in the UK 10/01/2017 refers to 10th January 2017 where as in the US it refers to 1st October 2017. To alleviate any potential confusion, dates should be ‘back to front’ detailing the year (as four digits YYYY) the month (as two digits MM) and the day (as two digits DD).
Example Filename 120117Minuets.docx 12012016 Minuets.pdf 01122016 Agenda.docx 01Feb2017 Profile.docx Uniform ‘back to front’ dated filename 20161201Agenda.docx 20161201Minuets.pdf 20170112Minuets.docx 20170201Profile.docx
The resulting date format not only utilises a uniform approach to date detailing within filenames, but allows for chronological file ordering within folders.
This concludes the first of the two part article on File Naming Conventions and Best Practice, but why not sign up to our mailing list and keep up to date with the latest blog posts, services and Change this news?
The National Archives have a plethora of information and guidance, on this and similar topics – take a look http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/information-management