Setting Up A Filing System Part 5: More on Naming Computer Files

By | Apr 29, 2010

I talked about naming computer files in Part 4 of Setting Up a Filing System, but I mostly talked about Windows file naming conventions.  In comments, Layne made another suggestion:

I would like to suggest in your series on “How To” set up a filing system electronically if you would include a write up on naming files. Some suggestions that make it easy to locate, uses consistency so when you sort you would see all the memo, letters, etc. separately. That kind of thing. I know you get the gist of what I’m saying. I think it would be a great addition to your series.

This is a great suggestion, Layne.  I’m always being asked to find files that someone else named and now can’t find.  Having a naming convention for file types can be extremely helpful in organizing files, especially in network folders where multiple people are saving documents.

When I was learning MS Access years ago, a programmer taught me to name all of my elements starting with the type of element.  For example, all table names began with TBL, and all query names began with QRY.  That way, when you were looking at the elements of a database, it was easy to distinguish what each element was without having to open and look at it.

Planning Your Naming Conventions

This type of naming convention can work with standard document files as well.  Look at, in general, the types of documents you save.  Memos, letters, faxes, policies, whatever you save on a regular basis, and then make up your own naming conventions that everyone should follow.  MEM for memo, LTR for letters, etc.  Of course, you’ll need management buy-in for a policy like this, but it can make finding files quicker and easier.  If you know the file you want is a memo, then you sort by name and look at all files beginning with MEM.  For bookkeeping files, you might have INV for invoices and BIL for bills.  This is especially handy if you are a paperless office and shred everything after scanning it into your computer systems.  While many of us keep separate folders for AP and AR, if you have a file type naming convention, you can easily see if a document was filed in the wrong folder, which is handy.

You’ll still want to keep your hierarchy of files, but even with several folder depths, you can still get folders with hundreds of files.  A file type naming convention can help you wade through those files to find the one you want more easily.

Consistency Is The Key

Whatever naming convention you choose, consistency is vital in its application.  Little things like what goes between the file type and the rest of the name is very important.  If the convention is space dash space (i.e. MEM – Casual Friday), everyone must be consistent in using that, or it will mess up the system.  Windows doesn’t interpret file names, it lists them alphabetically exactly as they are typed.  So “MEM – Casual Friday” will be listed before “MEM-Casual Friday” and everything else that skips the spaces.

Utilizing Windows To Its Fullest

In my next post, I’ll talk about setting up Windows Explorer to also help make finding files easier.

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