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Data management for students: Organising your data

Research Data Management (RDM) for students of the Radboud University

Why is organising your data important?

You should organise your data files throughout your research by having good folder structures and filenames. With well-organised file-/ and folder names and structures you will easily be able to find and keep track of your data. This will save you time since you will not have to spend time looking for the latest version of a file or wondering where a certain file may be. This can also prevent data loss caused by mistakenly deleting or overwriting files.

Folder structure

A clear folder structure is important for retrieving all your files and documents in a quick and efficient way (see also 'File naming').

  • Consider what folders are needed to store and arrange your files. This will differ for each researcher and possibly each research project. One way to organize your folders is in line with the research cycle. The benefit of this is that ongoing and completed work is clearly separated in different folders. You could create folders such as ‘Administration’, ‘Experiment’, and ‘Thesis’
  • Decide on a clear subdivision of files and folders. Names of folders can be devised to shorten the names of the files. For example the file name ‘InterviewcompanyA_audio_20190320' becomes 'CompanyA_audio_20190320' in the folder ‘Interviews’.
    • In general, a good rule of thumb is to go from more generic to more specific folders. 
    • Limit the levels of your subfolder to 3-4 so that the structure does not get too complicated. With more subfolders comes the risk of duplication in which files are stored in multiple locations because you forgot about the previous location. Additionally, there are technical limitations with a maximum length for the file path and filename. 

File naming

The following tips will help you to create distinguishable file names that are informative about the content of the file as well as include information about the version. File naming is quite personal, so you should decide what is best. We have listed several things to consider below. When creating a file name it is helpful to go from more generic to more specific. The most important aspect of file naming is that you are consistent. NB: Your raw data needs to be preserved at all times. Therefore files containing raw data should be clearly identifiable by their file names.

  • Short: Keep file names short using a maximum of 32 characters. Using known and easy to understand abbreviations will help you to keep it short.
  • Self-explanatory: You should be able to understand what the file contains by its filename. You can always describe the content further inside the file itself or in a separate file. For example 'Dataset1.xls' is not a good file name since it is so generic, while 'MRI_experiment_3_data_20181125.xls' provides enough information.
  • Special characters: Avoid special characters since they may cause issues *%&/:”? <>~!@#$^{} as well as accented characters such as é, ö, û.
  • File extensions: Keep the file extensions (e.g., .doc, .csv) since many systems have issues if you delete this information
  • Versioning: An example of a filename using versioning is as follows Chapter03_20210620_v05_KM.docx where the date, version number, and author are included. These are explained in more detail below.
    • Dates: Use the format YYYYMMDD because it allows you to sort files in chronological order.
    • Version number: You can indicate major revisions with “v01” or “v02” while minor changes can be indicated by adding another number “v01_03”, “v01_04”. By using leading “0” the files will be sorted sequentially.
    • Author: The initials of the author and the editor can also be added to the file name. This is convenient especially if your supervisor or someone else adds information or remarks.