What’s in a Name? An Introduction to File Naming Conventions

January 25, 2023 Surya Nair

“What's in a name?” A filename can be used to uniquely identify and locate an electronic file. And many key details can be built into its structure:

  • who owns the file
  • when it was published
  • what version it is

and most importantly,

  • what it is about

Proper naming and storage of electronic documents are essential for easy identification and retrieval.

Think of how books are categorized and organized in a library. A library cataloging system is elaborate and well-defined and makes it easy to locate a specific book from a repository of thousands of books. In the case of electronic documents too, a meaningful naming convention can help keep your files organized and also make it easy to identify and locate each file.

When you design a new folder and file naming convention for your organization, take your time and carefully consider the file storage and usage needs of the various departments within your organization. Involving the relevant stakeholders from all the departments can help you arrive at a naming convention that works well for everyone.

Benefits of a file naming convention:

  • A good filename ensures that you can identify the contents of that file by simply reading the filename.
  • It facilitates good organization and management of documents and makes it easy to find the files.
  • Companies that do not use an electronic document management system for version control can benefit from using version numbering in the filename to keep track of the progressing versions of a document.

Consider the following when using a naming convention:

1. Your standard naming convention should be suitable for the different types of documents handled by your organization.

Use a consistent naming scheme that can work for all types of documents. If your organization handles a wide variety of documents and the details you need to capture for the different types of documents are different, then define a standard naming scheme that can typically work for most documents and define separate naming schemes to handle the exceptions. If required, create a separate naming scheme for internal and external documents.

2. The folder structure for a file doesn’t always have to exactly match the filename components but if they are broadly similar, then it will be easy to locate the file.

Alternatively, it is sometimes useful to build your folder structure into the filename to make it easy to store and retrieve a file. Identify the various components that would make up the filename, such as Company, Division/Specific Function, Project ID, Document Version, Date, etc. Then use all or some of the key components of the filename to define the folder structure too.

3. For project documents, define file naming conventions at the start of your project and ensure compliance.

It is good practice to define a meaningful naming convention for project documents and ensure that the team members follow them consistently throughout the course of the project. This can avoid confusion and miscommunication in file management and save you rework.

4. Documenting your organization’s file and folder naming convention is highly recommended.

Document your organization’s file naming procedure so that employees can use this procedure document to easily understand and follow the conventions used. This can help in improving adoption of file naming standards, especially for new recruits.

Make sure to define a naming convention that makes the retrieval of a file easy for all users and not just the file’s creator. 😊

Follow my next blog, Technical Writing Tip: File and Folder Naming Conventions, for sample naming schemes and tips for defining a new file naming convention.

About the Author

Surya Nair

Technical Writer and Editor<br><br>Surya has been writing and editing technical content for over two decades in multiple industries. How do you transform complex technical content into an easy-to-understand document? Ask Surya - technical writing is her passion! She has been with ASCENT since 2018. She holds a master’s degree in English Literature, and a diploma in Journalism, and is a certified Technical Writer.

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