Tech friends often ask, "how should I organize files?"

Little wonder they ask when their files and folders are arrayed across the Desktop, Documents folder, Downloads folder, even in the Trash.

No need to elaborate on the confusion this creates. An antidote to filing confusion is this simple file naming rule:

  1. Use folders sparingly.
  2. Name files consistently.
  3. Include words that can be easily searched for on your device.
  4. Avoid using special characters like fore slash [/] or back slash [\], period [.] in the filename.

Folders can be handy, but they can also hide files. This can lead to misplaced data, duplicate and inconsistent filenames, even more confusion. Example; users of QuickBooks frequently mix up, then edit multiple iterations of identically-named company files that may be stored about the computer in various folders and sub-folders, on the Desktop, on external storage, and elsewhere. At tax time the confusion escalates to full-on chaos.

When saving a file or a file copy, name each version or iteration consistently. The techie term for this practice is "file naming convention" or FNC. A good file naming convention includes a few concise elements; a project name or abbreviation, a date or version number, and a short descriptor all applied consistently.

For example: A simple FNC for recipe cards sorted by name would list this way:

BAKING 2003 Apple Pie
BAKING 2007 Apple Crisp
BAKING 2018 Apple Strudel

With your recipes named and filed with care you can really let yourself go and bake with abandon!


Putting a finer point on it:

Purdue University's File Naming Conventions for Undergraduates:

"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. Developing an FNC is done through identifying the key elements of the project, the important differences and commonalities between your files. These elements could include things like the date of creation, author's name, project name, name of a section or a sub-section of the project, the version of the file, etc. An advantage to using unique and standardized filenames is the ability to follow path names and link to other systems that require unique filenames."

Purdue has other resources on file and folder naming conventions at the link above.

Harvard University's simple rules for naming directories (folders) and files:

* Avoid using special characters: \ / : * ? " < > | [ ] & $ , .
* Use underscores instead of spaces or periods.
* Avoid long names and be as brief as possible.
* The name should be as descriptive as possible (in case it is moved).
* Include dates (i.e. YYYYMMDD) and times (i.e. hhmmss).
* Be consistent.

Example: Project_instrument_location_date_time_version.ext


Power tricks:

Third-party software utilities are available that can assist with bulk renaming of photos, Word files, PDFs, and more. However, my experience with these utilities has been mixed. Often they simply do not work.

Luckily MacOS and Windows already have built-in a simple and effective tool that can easily rename multiple files. Here's the gist.

When renaming a group of files on a Mac.

  1. Locate the files you want to rename.
  2. Shift-click to select multiple files.
  3. Click on the Action button at the top of the Finder window. … (or right-click on the selected files)
  4. Select Rename [X number] Items.
  5. Select Format from the drop down menu at the top of the set of rename tool window.

When renaming a group of files on a Windows 10 PC:

  1. Select files to be renamed and right click the first file.
  2. From the pop down contextual menu select Rename.
  3. Type a name for the group - space - starting number.
  4. Example: group name (10001)
  5. Press Enter.
  6. Windows will rename the remaining files as follows:
group name (10001)
group name (10002)
group name (10003)

For more about this, visit your operating system Help file.

Aren’t you glad you read to the end?