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Document Naming Best Practices

Posted Thu, August 4, 2016

We’ve all encountered black holes in our file management. You make your way into a folder only to find a mishmash of files with vaguely similar names – “ClientName-Report-Final.doc”, “Client Name New Report Final.doc”, and “Client Name New Report Final Final.doc”. Are you confused yet?

Creating a systematic, repeatable convention for naming documents can improve your workflow and reduce downtime typically spent on searching for files. Here are a few best practices we recommend.

Be descriptive, but not too long

There’s a fine balance in file naming – too short and the names don’t have enough context to mean anything. Too long and the filenames are cumbersome, and files destined for the web don’t always work properly with overly long names.

Every organization will have different needs, but some common elements to consider including are:

  • Client name
  • Project name
  • Type of document (report, proposal, etc.)
  • Version number
  • Date
  • Name of creator

Some organizations find it useful to have a standard list of abbreviations for document types, personal names, or business divisions.

Avoid redundancy

Depending on the structure of your folders, you may not need to include some types of information in the file name. For example, if you’re putting reports in a folder marked “Reports,” it may not be necessary to include the word “report” in the filename.

Do not identify the format of the file in the filename since this will be evident from the file’s extension. For example, “ProjectName_Presentation.ppt” is redundant, because it is clear from the extension that this file is a PowerPoint presentation.

Alphanumeric characters

Using only alphanumeric characters will make your filenames easier for your human users to read, especially when they are scanning lists of files.

In some cases, it may make sense to separate individual words with an underscore. It is preferable, though, to use capital letters to separate words instead of adding non-alphanumeric characters.

Use: ClientNameOctoberReport.pdf

Not: Client_Name_Report(October).pdf

Smart versioning

At the end of every version of a file, simply append the letter “V” and a two-digit numeral (01, 02, 03, etc.). Using two digits ensures the files are listed chronologically when they are sorted alphabetically. If you think you may have more than 99 revisions of a file, use three digits (001, 002, 003, and so on).

Use the words “Draft” and “Final” to note the most complete version of the file. Minor changes are then made to the draft, and major changes result in a new version number.

No matter which naming convention you use, the most important thing you can do is define a style and stick to it. Having a pre-determined convention will help make it easier to locate the files you need, both when searching and when scanning for documents. This will save you time and energy, and make your office a more efficient place to do business.

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