File naming, when done in a well-organized fashion, can contribute to project documentation, workflow organization, and sharing. Moreover, certain choices in file naming are essential to accessing and sharing files across a computing systems.
Projects often develop over the course of many years, and usually involve periodic work interrupted by spans of inactivity. To ensure that naming conventions are understood months or years after they are initially conceived, include a readme.txt file or some kind of file manifest (in a plain text or other sustainable format) in your directory that explains the contents of files and the naming system developed.
Sometimes you may see that folks try to document their data by using file paths. In the image below on the right, you can tell that the researchers want to note the date, time, and quality of the experiment. However, instead of doing with documentation, they did it with the file path.
But what happens when they want to send someone else the 0034tz.tiff? They will have no access to the file path and any of the context embedded within it. This is a huge problem!
It’s useful then to keep a standard way of organizing your projects, to help avoid the nested folder rabbit hole. This way of organizing projects I’ve found is one of the most helpful across different domains of research:
Visually, it would look like this:
Naming your files consistently is one low-hanging RDM fruit that will really help you in your research projects. Certain choices in file naming are essential to accessing and sharing files across different types of computer environments.
You should follow these practices as you implement a file naming convention for your project:
It’s the difference between VS_IMG%Archive2&3 Jan 2018.tiff and 2018-01-04_VS-Archive2-3.tiff. One is way more understandable later on than the other. Another hint: you don’t want all the metadata about your files in the file name, because then it can get too long and unwieldy.
Other practices to keep in mind:
Choose file names that are recognizable to humans and that make sense within the project environment by including information such as:
Name of creator (say, in a collaboratively built project)
Date of creation
Version number (avoid terms like "final" or "latest," since file versions usually not final)
Descriptive term for object referenced by the file (a text title, a specimen name, a geographical location, a scientific instrument type)