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Content Naming Conventions

File Naming Conventions (FNC) is a framework for systematic naming files in a way that describes what they contain and how they relate to other files. Developing FNC is done through identifying the key elements of the file, the important differences and commonalities between files.

How files are organized and named has a big impact on the ability to find those files later and to understand what they contain. File names should be consistent and descriptive in naming and organizing so that it is obvious where to find specific files and what the files contain.

To ensure maximum access to files, it is necessary to establish a naming convention for files and use it consistently.

Here is the situation: you need to review the most recent version of a document. You login to your organization’s content management system (CMS) and look for the file, but you can’t tell which of the documents you should be reviewing because files' names are meaningless.

This is just one small example of an information management weakness that can cause a lot of unnecessary frustration. Imagine how much more productive you and your colleagues could be if you knew what each file contained before you opened it!

Therefore file naming conventions are very important because the more organized you can be with managing your information, the more effective and efficient you can be your work.

A file naming convention is a systematic method for naming files. Your file naming convention will always be your most powerful and easy method for organizing and retrieving your documents. You want to get this right the first time, so it is important to invest enough time to think about this carefully.

A consistent and descriptive file naming convention serves many purposes, often related to branding, information management, and usability. The overall goal of optimal file naming is to increase readability in file names. It empowers people to navigate files more easily, makes searching and finding documents easier by having your file names reflect file contents, and guides file authors to develop each document around a single, concrete purpose, which reduces clutter. More concretely, it allows you to:

* 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.

As you can see, there are many situations in which it is helpful to have file naming conventions. It is necessary to have it in order to organize your organization’s files so that users can find what they are looking for.

One way to know if you need to pay some extra attention to the way you are naming your files is to take golden test of a good file naming convention: imagine if you take all your files from your whole organization, and put them into one single folder.

Can you still quickly filter down to what you want by scrolling through the file list? Or by searching for elements of file names? If the answer is yes, your file naming is good. If not, your file naming still needs some work.

Tips for designing your file naming convention

1. Consider how you want to retrieve the files

How you want to retrieve the files will help determine the right file naming convention for that file type. Keep in mind that file sorting will read from left to right.

Starting your file name with the most important parameter/component will allow you to organize documents alphabetically (or chronologically) with that parameter without having to do any searching.

For example, if your primary method of accessing a litigation case file is its number, then this should be the first element in your file naming convention: when you sort your documents in the file manager, you will see them by case number first.

To ensure that files are sorted in proper chronological order the most significant date and time components should appear first followed with the least significant components. If all the other words in the file name are the same, this convention will allow you to sort documents by year, then month, then date.

Some conventions have the date in the front of every filename because that is the most logical way for their team to retrieve files. If the document will be maintained over time, use the convention v1, v2, v3, etc. to depict its place in the sequence of versions. You may want to separate the “v” from the content type with an underscore (“_”). As versions are made and updated, change the version #, but keep the file name the same.

Make sure that, if there are going to be more than 9 files with that name (versioning, photos), it should be 01, 02, 03,.. so that it can be sorted in chronological order. Same if it is more than 99 files, it should be -001, -060, -099, -100.

2. Use relevant components in your file name to provide description and context. The file name should contain the essential elements of each file, dependent upon what is suitable for your retrieval needs. File names should outlast the records creator who originally named the file, so think about what information would be helpful to someone in 15 years.

Keep in mind you will most likely want to use agreed-upon abbreviations for these components in order to keep the file names short.

For example, a file naming convention may include the following components, in the following order [YYMMDD]_[Project]_[Country]_[Event]-[number].xxx

Examples of filenames based on this convention:

160126_HURIDOCS_EHRAC_meeting_notes.rtf 160219_SRJI_Moscow_meeting-001.jpg

3. Keep the filename a reasonable length

Long file names do not work well so it’s best to keep them short. To achieve this, you could consider:
shortening the year to 2 numbers;
abbreviate file name components (e.g. use “inv” instead of “invoice”, or “fr” instead of “francais”);
use as few words as possible to convey the identity of the document;
4. Avoid special characters and spaces Special characters such as ~ ! @ # $ % ^ * ( ) ` ; ? , [ ] { } ‘ ” | should be avoided. Do not use spaces. Some software will not recognize file names with spaces. Use these alternatives instead: Underscores (e.g., Dashes (e.g., No separation (e.g., Camel case, where the first letter of each section of text is capitalized (e.g.

5. Do not start the file name with special characters under any circumstances.

6. Document and share your file naming convention, and get your team on-board.

Make it easy to understand, use and find the file naming conventions by documenting them and putting them in a place that is easy to find.

Hold a short and fun internal training session to explain why the new file naming conventions are so important to use, and how they work. Create a video that goes through the key points of these conventions.

Example of a digital photo file naming convention

Professional photographers also use file naming conventions to organize their photos. A photographer may take thousands photos in a single shoot, and they do not depend on file names produced by their camera, or rely on folder structures. Rather, they typically use a file naming convention, such as: [Date] – [place or event] – [number] – [comment].



As you can see, the photos above relate to riots that took place in Kampala on 11 November 2011. They were shot in TIFF format. The last photo is derivative of the previous one: it is an image cropped for the slider. Even if there are tens of thousands of photos in the same folder, it’s easy to filter for “kampala” and “riot”. Photography software like Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop allows you to batch rename files as above.

Example of using a file naming convention when scanning documents

If you’re using a scanner to digitize documents, it will typically produce PDF documents with filenames like 20120202095112663.pdf. This is not helpful for browsing thousands of documents! Instead, using a file naming convention will result with document names like the following: ICJ-submission-CAT47-Greece-20111011.pdf.

You can guess what this document is about without opening it. In this case, it is a submission by the International Commission of Jurists to the Committee Against Torture at its 47th session, on 11 October 2011, concerning Greece.

Enjoying the fruits of your labor: how to find your file

Using consistent file naming conventions will let you find content you are looking for.

Galaxy Consulting has 20 years experience in content naming conventions. Please contact us for a free consultation.

Categories: Naming Conventions
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