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Data Management for the Humanities

Organizing Data

Well organized file names and folder structures make it easier to find and keep track of data files. A system needs to be practical and used consistently.

File naming

Good file names can provide useful cues to the content and status of a file, can uniquely identify a file and can help in classifying files. File names can contain project acronyms, researchers' initials, file type information, a version number, file status information and date.

Best practice is to:

  • create meaningful but brief names
  • use file names to classify broad types of files
  • avoid using spaces and special characters
  • avoid very long file names

Whilst computers add basic information and properties to a file, such as file type, date and time of creation and modification, this is not reliable data management. For example, when files are copied, for revision or as a template, the system does not account for their new purpose and treats them as a copy of the original file.


  • FG1_CONS_12-02-2010 is the file that contains the transcript of the first focus group with consumers, that took place on 12 February 2010
  • Int024_AP_05-06-2008 is an interview with participant 024, interviewed by Anne Parsons on 5 June 2008

Version numbering in file names is useful to indicate files revisions or edits, especially in collaborations. This can be through discrete or continuous numbering depending on minor or major revisions.

Adapted from the UK Data Archive

File Structure

Think carefully how best to structure files in folders, in order to make it easy to locate and organize files and versions. When working in collaboration the need for an orderly structure is even higher.

Consider the best hierarchy for files, deciding whether a deep or shallow hierarchy is preferable.

In the adjacent example, data and documentation files are held in separate folders. Data files are further organized according to data type and then according to research activity. Documentation files are organized also according to type of documentation file and research activity.

It helps to restrict the level of folders to three or four deep and not to have more than ten items in each list.

File Naming Example

File Name Changes to File
Interviewschedule_1.0 Original document
Interviewschedule_1.1 Minor revisions made
Interviewschedule_1.2 Further minor revisions
Interviewschedule_2.0 Substantive changes

Folder Structure Example