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Kornhauser Health Sciences Library

Health Sciences Research Data Management: File Formatting & Naming

Organization is Key

Different dates, times, locations, researchers, collection methods, and a myriad of other variables will be present throughout the lifecycle of a research project. Deciding on how you want to organize your data and all it's possible versions before beginning will help you and your team stay consistent throughout the project.

Core aspects of organization will include file naming systems and conventions, as well as file formats.

Some best practices for organization:

  • Develop a naming system that makes sense to you and your team
  • Consider how your files sort
  • Establish a folder hierarchy 
  • Be consistent
  • Include a readme.txt file that explains your naming convention so that others will understand


Recommended File Formats

If possible use uncompressed, non-proprietary (open) formats.

  • Containers: TAR, GZIP, ZIP
  • Databases: XML, CSV
  • Geospatial: SHP, DBF, GeoJSON, KML, NetCDF, GeoTIFF/TIFF, NetCDF, HDF-EOS
  • Moving images:  MOV, AVI, MXF, MP4
  • Presentations: PDF
  • Sounds: WAV, AIFF, MXF, MP3
  • Statistics: ASCII, DTA, POR, SAS, SAV
  • Still images: TIFF, JPEG 2000, JPEG, PDF
  • Tabular data: CSV
  • Text: XML, PDF/A, HTML, ASCII, UTF-8
  • Web archive: WARC

For more information, see the Library of Congress Recommended Formats Section.

File Organization Tips

  • Adhere to existing procedures - make a plan and ensure the entire team is aware of the organizational structure
  • Use folders - group files within folders to keep topics and information organized 
  • Name folders appropriately - do NOT name folders after individual researchers or team members. Use names that are related to the work they contain and/or project.
  • Use hierarchical structure - start with broad topics and add folders for subtopics
  • Keep ongoing and completed work separate - think about how you want to do this before you get started
  • Backup - maintain 3 backups of your data (e.g. USB, cloud server, hard drive)

File Naming Conventions

File Naming Tips

  • Keep file names short (25 characters or less)
  • Order the elements from general to specific
  • Avoid using spaces and special characters (!@#$%/ \ < >*, etc) and periods (.) except before file extensions
  • If necessary, use underscores or CamelCase
  • Use proper date and time formatting (YYYYMMDD; HHMMSS)
  • Make sure file formats are indicated (.txt, .pdf., .csv,)
  • Use leading zeros when utilizing numbers (001, 002, 003 rather than 1, 2, 3)
  • Include a version number when appropriate


Examples of Information to Include:

  • Creation date
  • Experiment or project number
  • Geographical coordinates
  • Version number
  • Creator name

Examples of Good File Names

•Ventriculoperitoneal Shunt project, experiement 1 done in Louisville, KY on April 25, 2021; data file created

File name




•Image of brain tissue sample number 4 taken by Dan Smith on December 3, 2020

File Name