The way you organise your research data affects how you access, sort and use it. Data organisation includes:
- folder structure
- file naming
File structures and naming conventions are often unique to lab and research groups. Check with your school to find out if there are existing protocols for organising your data.
Watch our video about data organisation
A folder structure organises digital and physical data into logical groups. Follow these principles:
- keep your raw or primary data in a separate file from your working data
- co-locate data files with the software tools needed to manage them, for example by storing script files and data files in the same folder
- store consent forms separately for ethics and privacy reasons
- nest your folders in the direction that best suits how you plan to use them, for example FacilityA > Interviews or Interviews > FacilityA
- don’t create too many empty folders ahead of time
- don’t set up a folder hierarchy that’s deeper than you really need
- if you’re collaborating with others, try to agree on a common folder structure that makes sense to everyone.
See the UK Data Archive’s organising data example
File and folder naming conventions
Be consistent when you name your data and the folders they’re stored in. Decide on a convention early in your project and stick to it. Record your convention, for example in a lab notebook or README file. Make it available to anyone else who needs to access and use the data.
Learn more about describing your research data
Choose useful keywords that you and others might use to search for your folders and files. Separate each word with a hyphen or underscore. Useful keywords may include:
- project acronym
- type of data
- researcher initials
Consider how your storage system will sort and display your files when you name them. For example:
- start your title with the date, formatted as YYYYMMDD, to display your files in chronological order
- prefix your titles with numbers such as 01 or 02 to order your files.
- don’t manually change or delete automatically generated file extension suffixes, for example .docx, .pdf or .csv
- avoid using special characters in filenames apart from hyphens and underscores.
The software and computers you use may determine how you’re able to name your files.
Digital data can be easily overwritten, changed and copied. Working with outdated versions of files wastes research time and puts the authenticity of your data at risk. A manual or automated version control system allows you to keep track of changes made to your data over time.
Some document management systems can manage file versions for you. If you are not using a system with automated version control, you can use manual versioning by adding version terms to the file name. For example:
- author name or initials
- date last modified
- version number.
Alternatively, you can use a version control table.
If your data includes code, consider using version control software. For example:
Version control software lessons from Software Carpentry
Data Carpentry lessons including curriculum materials for specific disciplines
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