Recommendations for File Organization


"Now where did I save that file...?" It's a thought we've all had, typically followed by an agonizing length of time searching through files and folders trying to find the information you're look for. With disorganized files, finding anything specific can be like finding a specific needle in a haystack. One that you keep revisiting day after day.

How you organize and name your files will have a big impact on your ability to find those files later and to understand what they contain. You should be consistent and descriptive in naming and organizing files so that it is obvious where to find specific data and what the files contain.

Taking some time to develop an organized plan for storing files will pay big dividends later. This is especially important when you're collaborating with others.

Regardless of the storage service being used, consider adopting some or all of the following suggestions:

  • Use Online Storage: It's tempting to just save everything to your local desktop, laptop, smartphone, etc, but that creates few big problems.
    • You're not always at that device when you need access to the information.
    • It's not very easy to share the information with others
    • Most people don't have a strategy for backing up their device. So if your device crashes you lose that critical file you've been working on.
  • Good File Names: Even the best file management strategy will fail without consistent labeling conventions. The best file names are generally short and sweet since longer ones can cause issues when factoring the full path name. Using clear, descriptive file names makes it easy to identify what's in a file, no matter where it is. A few specific recommendations:
    • Be concise
    • Use descriptive text
    • For dates, use ISO 8601 format YYYYMMDD (e.g. 20180820), so dates stay in chronological order. For additional information you can read the Wikipedia ISO 8601 article regarding date and time standards.
    • Use sequential numbering (e.g. 01, 02, etc. instead of 1, 2, etc.)
    • Avoid special characters such as ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ` ; < > ? , [ ] { } ' " |
    • Use underscores ( _ ) instead of spaces.
    • Avoid the use of dashes. Why? Can you tell the difference, at a glance, between a hyphen ( - ), an en dash ( – ), or an em dash ( — )? Can everyone else? Are you sure about that? ‘Nough said.
  • Folder Structure: Locating files is simple with a good folder structure. Sometimes it's as simple as creating a pool of sub-folders and grouping similar files types (e.g. PicturesSpreadsheetsPresentations, etc.) or categories (e.g. Contracts, FinancialResearch, etc.) together. Name folders based on purpose or function. Don't be afraid of sub-folders a Financial folder may have sub-folders called "2018", "2017" and "2016" that corresponds to a specific fiscal year. However, remember to keep your sub-folders to a minimum in order minimize issues with path limits. Generally don't go beyond 3-5 levels of folders. A few specific recommendations:
    • Name folders for "find-ability"
    • Folder names should contain information that leads to easy retrieval and identification
    • Nested folder names should be ordered from general to specific
  • Be Aware of File Name and Path Limits: "What is this limit you speak of?" you may be asking yourself. Computers, and related devices, store data onto a storage medium (Hard Disk, Solid State Disk, Flash Drive, etc.) that is formatted with a specific file system. Which file system type depends upon the operating system, or online storage provider. Without going into the specifics of each file system, be aware that all of them have a practical limit to the maximum number characters allowed in a file name and file path. Additionally, operating systems may impose their own restrictions further reducing the number of characters available.

    We're all probably familiar with a file name is; however, what a file path is may not be as familiar to us. Think of a file path as the full set of directions on how to locate the file starting at the "beginning" of the storage device. The file path is frequently delineated with the forward slash ( / ) or backslash ( \ ) character depending upon your operating system. A file path looks something like the following:

    /Some/Nested/Folder/MyFile.docx  <-- 31 characters
    \\\FileShare$\Some\Other\Nested\Folder\MyOtherFile.xlsx  <--82 characters

    Most modern operating systems and applications have some extremely high path limits (e.g. Windows 10 v1607 or later, macOS, most Linux/Unix systems); however, some of these operating systems specificity require the support of long paths to be enabled. Additionally, there are many applications still being actively used that may not be able to successfully access files with long path lengths. On operating systems with path limits (i.e. almost all versions of Windows before Windows 10 v 1607) exceeding the maximum file path length can cause unreliable file copies as well as the inability to save changes to modified files.

    In order to maximum file accessibility across as many desktop, laptop and smartphones and operating system combinations as possible we recommend the following character limits:
    • Maximum File Name Length: ≤40 characters, including the file extension
    • Maximum Folder Name Length: ≤30 characters, per folder
    • Maximum File Path Length: ≤400 characters 
  • File As You Go: The best time to organize a file is when you first create it. Get in the habit of using the "Save As" dialogue box to select where to save your document as well as providing it a distinctive name. Putting it in the right place in the first place saves you time later.
  • Plan for Retention: Different groups have different regulations that dictate how long you are required to keep specific types of information. Some files are retained for a longer period of time, mostly because it is painful to purge the files (paper or electronic) or simply because people don't know how long they are required to keep certain files. Purging electronic files has become a larger problem as available storage space as become large and more affordable.
    • Know the rules and regulations that apply to the data you're generating.
    • Keep files with common compliance or retention rules together - they they are easier to archive or delete as a group. For example: all purchasing documents for fiscal year 2010 could be in a folder path of Purchase Orders / FY2010.
  • Don't Float Folders: Using a special naming convention (e.g. '1' or '_') in front of a folder name so that it appears at the top of a folder list. Resist this temptation! Floating folders are an easy way out, rather than committing to using an effective file structure. Furthermore, if others are looking for folders alphabetically, they could easily miss a floating folder and duplicate information.
  • Collaborating Effectively: Use collaboration options, where possible, like document read, notification, approvals, comments, etc. which keeps everything associated with the file for referral and auditing. Follow documents so you are notified when the are modified. Don't allow lots of offline copies of files - all official files should be in the common shared storage location.
  • Stick To It: No file organization system is going to be perfect. But in order to be effective, you have to use it all the time, every time. Don't save everything to your desktop or Documents folder and tell yourself "I'll move it later." Otherwise, the only thing you'll end up with is a half-finished organizational system.
  • Document It: For groups and teams it is recommended to have a "Read_Me" document at the root of the file repository that documents the file storage and naming conventions adopted by the team. This makes it extremely simple to train new members of the team as they join.


Need additional help or have issues

For support, requests may be submitted anytime by Requesting Support for the Enterprise File Storage service. Support Requests are worked by Priority based on the Impact and Urgency of need as well as the order they are received by the IT Employees with the knowledge and permissions to assist with the request.

For immediate assistance please review the Contact IT page for ways to contact the appropriate support group.

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Article ID: 99
Mon 4/20/20 8:45 AM
Wed 7/13/22 7:29 AM

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