Once you create, gather, or start analysing data and files, they can very quickly become disorganised. Using file and folder structures and naming, describing and documenting your data throughout your project will save time, reduce errors and enable you and others to find and understand what you have done.
There are many ways to organise your files so think about what makes sense for you and your research. If you only have a small number of files, then longer and more descriptive titles can be useful.
However you choose to arrange your files, create an index file (a Word or text document is great for this) that you keep with the files. This only takes a few minutes, but can save hours of searching later. You can update this later as your research develops; just make sure that if you re-organise your files, that the index is also updated.
Version control is automatically activated within much software; however, if you are manually in control of your code, draft, or results, then you should manage the versioning carefully. If your collaborators also have access to your files, then version control can help you prevent over-writing by colleagues, and if you make an edit that you change your mind on, then you can revert to a previous version.
- Existing conventions and procedures – find out what they are (research group, department, College or University) and follow them, or if there are none put some in place
- Consistency – agree what works and stick to it. Don’t use no or multiple conventions
- Use of folders – apply logical structuring of files within folders relating to projects or issues, keeping things in the same place and making them easy to find. Don’t leave files unsorted, hanging under top level folders
- Structure folders hierarchically – design a hierarchy with higher level broader topics, with more specific folders within these. Do not create very tall, and/or labyrinthine structures e.g. with similar issues appearing at multiple levels
- Good folder naming – folders should be named after projects and research issues, with clear meaning. Do not create names which are meaningless (or only mean something to you), are excessively long, or relate to individuals
- Current and completed work – it may help to separate current and completed work or versions or files/documents e.g. where a document will have many versions and multiple contributors consider a “current version” folder
- Review what you have – don’t keep pointless multiple copies of data, and consider carefully what you need to retain, for how long, and what can (and can’t) be destroyed/deleted. Consider this at intervals and at the end of a project
Further guidance on file organisation