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Archives: Naming Conventions

Benefits of naming conventions

This document has been developed to assist in establishing good file and folder naming practices and procedures. Additional questions or requests for advice on records and information management should be referred to the University Archivist and Records Manager.

How we organize and name our files has a big impact on our ability to find the files later and to understand what they contain. It is advisable to be consistent and descriptive in naming and organizing files so that it is obvious where to find specific information and what the files contain.

Consistent and descriptive names help make it obvious what the files and folders contain:

  • Files are easily distinguished one from another;
  • File names are easier to browse; and
  • Retrieval is facilitated for all users—not just the file’s creator.

Keep in mind that files can be moved and, without the inherited folder structure, important descriptive information about the contents could be lost. 

The record’s file name is the chief identifier that places the record in context with other records, records series, and records retention schedules. Consistent and logical names, therefore, make it easier to meet approved records requirements:

  • Records must be trustworthy, complete, accessible, and durable for the approved retention period.

Naming Files

Rule #1: Keep file names short but meaningful.

  • Have a distinctive, human-readable name that gives an indication of the content; and
  • Avoid using special characters such as: ? / $ % & ^ # . \ : < >. These are often reserved for use by the operating system.

Tip  Spaces are often reserved for operating system functions and might be misread. Best practice is to use underscores (_). At the very least, choose one style and stick to it:

  • use_underscores.doc (recommended);
  • use-dashes.doc;
  • usenoseparation.doc; or
  • UseCamelCase.doc (so-named because of the upper and lower case "humps").

Rule #2:  If using a date, use the format Year-Month-Day (four digit year, two digit month, two digit day): YYYY-MM-DD or YYYY-MM or YYYY-YYYY. This will maintain chronological order. 


Not This


Mar 4, 2006 Agenda


24 March 2006 Agenda

Tip  Start the filename with the date if it is important to store or sort files in chronological order. Dating the file correctly can make following retention schedules easier (creation date, date of event, contract expiry date, etc.).

Rule #3: Include a leading zero for numbers 0-9. This will maintain the numeric order in the file directory.


Not This


Office Procedures v1


Office Procedures v10

Rule #4: Order the elements in a file name according to the way the file will be retrieved

If records are retrieved according to their date, that element should appear first; if they are retrieved according to their description, that element should appear first


Not This

/…/Curriculum Committee

/…/Curriculum Committee


Agenda 1 Jan 2007


Agenda 20 Jan 2007

Rule #5: Avoid descriptive terms relating to formats (“memo”, “attch”) or versions (“draft”, “final”, v01) at the start of file names. 


Not This




2006-30-06 Awards Ceremony


rev4 Org Chart 2006

Tip  File names that describe the work being done, version number, and date last edited will help with future retrieval. 

Naming Folders

Similar to file naming consistency is key. Organize folders in a way that makes sense within the context of your project but would also make sense to someone who was not intimately familiar with your project. How files and folders are nested in directories can be dependent on the number of files you are working with and what aspect of those files is most important for analyzing or re-using the information in them.

When creating new folders take care with the folder name:

  • Is it redundant?
  • Is it an acronym?
  • Is it too long?
  • Is it a folder within a folder?
  • Is it meaningless?
  • Is it a multiple-topic folder?

Tip   Folder names should describe the work that is being done not who is doing it.

Subject Classification

  • Categories arranged by subject, personal names, or alphabetically require you to remember what terms you used to label them
  • Subjects require you to disperse records relating to a single activity throughout your folders

Departmental Classification

  • Categories based on the business unit that manages them seem logical but suffer when the organizational structure changes
  • Question: Does KAUST frequently change organizational structure?

Categories based on the functions or activities to which they relate (e.g., finance, human resources, governance) are  better suited to endure organization changes. 

Functional categories also make it easier to follow retention schedules since records relating to similar functions have the same retention length: 

  • Can be quickly grouped together for destruction or archival transfer

Naming Research Files: A Case Study

Researchers photographed underwater tiles over time and again after they were retrieved. Their photos were named using the convention set out below:

Sample photo filename: FR3S.140623.129C.2653.W.JPG

How does this translate?

  • FR3 = Study site FR3
  • S = Shallow, Middle, or Deep
  • 140623 = Date June 23, 2014
  • 129 = Tile number 129
  • C = Caged or Uncaged
  • 2653 = Photo number assigned by camera
  • W = Whole tile or quadrants A to D

Tip  Include a readme.txt file in the directory that explains your naming format along with any abbreviations or codes you have used. That way team members can easily look up the structure if they either forgot or have never dealt with having to name a file in that structure.

See Standford Libraries, “Case study: File naming done well” for further details.


Digital Archivist

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Eamon Smallwood
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