File Naming Convention: How to name your files like a pro!

File Naming Convention: How to name your files like a pro!

File Naming Convention helps you to file more efficiently!

How often do you need to quickly find a file on your computer? And your search in File Explorer return no or irrelevant results?

Therefore, your file naming convention (FNC) is so important. It helps you to consistently name your files the same way. And leads to more effective search results.

Using an efficient file naming convention strategy can also help you to reduce the number of folders. Meaning that you can get to your files with less clicks.

For example: Using the date in your files name, enables you to get rid of those month and date folders. It also made purging easier, as you can quickly sort or search by date, and archive accordingly.

Proper naming of files makes a significant contribution to efficient file management. And to achieving your Electronic Records Management goals!

Let’s have a look at some of the rules and factors involved in creating your file naming convention.

1. What is a File Naming Convention?

A File Naming Convention (FNC) is a framework for naming your files in a way that describes what they contain and how they relate to other files.

It is important to establish your file naming convention before any records are saved to your electronic filing system. This will prevent you from working through a backlog of files that needs to be properly renamed.

2. Elements of a file naming convention

There are numerous ways to name your files. You need to find the way that work best for you.

There are many different elements that you can incorporate to ensure that file names are meaningful for you.

File Naming Convention Elements: Project, File Creator, Date Created, Version Number, Sequential Numbers
Elements of a File Naming Convention (FNC)

Also consider which separators you will use. As well as the order of the various elements.

Seperators for File Naming:  Underscore or None (leave out spaces between words)
File Name Seperators

3. Benefits of a File Naming Convention

Using this systematic method for naming your files is a powerful and straightforward way to organize and retrieve your documents. It improves readability of file names. It makes navigation easier, especially for people new to the content. And it improves search results and helps with efficient retrieval of files.

According to File naming conventions: why you want them and how to create them, other benefits are:

Know the content of a document without opening it.

Retrieve and filter documents very quickly using the search/filter function of your computer.

Store documents in a single folder without losing their context if you need to.

Find and identify documents even if they are no longer in their original folder.

Easily browse long lists of files to inventory or check for missing documents.

Manage documents more easily on your website (often content management systems store documents in a single “upload” directory).

4. Key Considerations when creating your File Naming Convention

4.1 How do you want to retrieve your files?

This will determine the elements you use. As well as the order they will appear.

❗ Remember key sorting reads from left to right.

Always start your filename with the most key component. This will ensure your records are filed alphabetically or chronologically according to that specific parameter.

For example: You have an invoice from a supplier (Easy Stationery) dated 7 February 2020, and invoice number 39876. Based on your key component, you can name in the following ways: (The element used in the beginning will enable you to sort your files in different ways)

  1. Date: 20200707-Easy Stationery-39876
  2. Supplier: Easy Stationery_20200707_39876
  3. Invoice Number: 39876-Easy Stationery-20200707. In this case you can use leading zeros in case some invoice numbers are shorter. For invoice 398, you will then have 00398 (total of five digits)

There are different components that can be used in your file names. All these components need to be functional. Firstly, to see without opening, what the file is about. And secondly, to ensure efficient retrieval.

File Name Components: Organization name, short description, Work, location, sample, analysis, version number, project name and number, document and content type, language
File Name Components

4.2 Use other relevant components for description and context

Use other essential elements to describe the file. Based on your retrieval needs. Only use elements that will stay relevant overall. Therefore, the name of the file creator might not always be applicable.

You can use abbreviations. But it must be universally used or agreed upon within your organisation.

Avoid unnecessary repetition and order elements in ways most appropriate for retrieval of the record.

Do not use vague terms like general, my files or miscellaneous. Also avoid using frequently used words like draft, and letter at the beginning at the start. Unless it will help to improve retrieval of that record.

You can use alphanumeric characters: Letters (A-Z) and Numbers (0-9)

4.3 Keep filename as short as possible

Certain software may restrict the amount of characters you can use. Therefore, you need to keep filenames as short as possible. To assist with this, you can use abbreviations and as little words as possible.

You can also shorten dates (200708 instead of 20200708). But do this only in your file management system!

4.4 Do not use special characters and spaces

Do not use spaces and special characters  ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ` ; < > ? , [ ] { } ‘ ” and |

4.5 Make your file naming convention available to your team and get their co-operation in using it!

Make your file naming convention simple to understand and implement. Create a document and file in an easily accessible location.

A short (and fun) training session is an ideal way to get your team to understand the importance of using the file naming convention. You can use a practical video to explain how it works.

5. Batch file renaming tools

If you are late in the game and already have a lot of files that you need to rename, you can use a tool that renames files in batches.

I have personally used Lupas Rename for a long time. I like the fact that it has a preview pane. This enable you to see how the new names will look before renaming.

It features assorted options to replace, insert and crop text. You can decide between several types of capitalization and even remove accents.

The Auto Number tab makes it quite easy to add numbers to files.

You can rename all files or only selected files.

Screenshot of Lupas Rename Working Window
Lupas Rename Working Window

You can also use:

Bulk Rename Utility (Windows, Free)

Total Commander (Windows, Free)

Renamer 4 (Mac, Not Free)

PS Renamer (Linux, Max, Windows, Free and Open Source)


Intuerested in the bigger picture? Read ERM: Getting Smart with Electronic Records Management or The Little Guide to Digital File Management

Now that you know the importance of a file naming system, are you ready to develop and implement yours?

You can even create a simple one for your personal files.

Do you use a file naming convention?

Contact Me if you need help with creating your File Naming Convention!

6. Sources

1. Introduction to Data Management for Undergraduate Students: File Naming Conventions

2. File naming conventions: why you want them and how to create them

3. File Naming

4. File Naming Conventions: simple rules to save time and effort




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