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Good File Naming for Humans and Computers

The way you name your files is surprisingly important. It can have an impact on how easy it is for both you and your computer to successfully find and open them in the future. There are two parts to this:

1 – File Naming & Organisation for the Human Brain

When naming a document or file you want a name that is short and precise but which will differentiate this file from all the others. Within a folder, name them according to how you want them arranged. For example GST2018Jan is better than Jan2018GST because your computer will then present all of your GST files together, as opposed to presenting all of your Jan files together within the folder. Unless sorting by date is how you want to do it. I like to start my file names with the general topic, and then get more specific. Think of a name that you will remember later when looking for this particular file.

You also need to consider your folder organisation. You want a system that makes sense in terms of the files you have, but you also need to consider access. On a shared home computer it’s useful to have a high level folder distinction between members of your family. On a business network you might have different levels of access for different users so you need to have high level distinction between folders which are universally accessible and those with restricted access. You don’t want to find yourself sharing files within folders, within restricted folders, because that can provide back door access to restricted files.

2 – File Naming for your Computer

Computers ‘think’ differently to people. Anything you type into a file name will be converted by your computer to code. And there are some characters which will seriously confuse it. The full stop ‘.’ for example, is used to differentiate between the file name and the file type. So if you insert a full stop in the file name (eg ginas.work) your computer is going to think that ‘work’ is the file type and it might just never open this file again. Your computer should chose an appropriate file type for you, but you can change that with the drop down menu if you need to. The file name is important. Local applications on your computer have traditionally had restrictions on the use of silly characters in file names. But now, with applications available on the Cloud, you may be allowed to use all sorts of computer-confusing symbols.

You also need to consider the length of your file name. Your computer has a set limit to the number of characters it can handle in file names, and every preceeding folder it is saved within is also added to the coded file name because it will use this to find the file. So if it’s five folders deep and 30 characters long your computer will not thank you. Using spaces is a bad idea for this reason because each space is converted to three characters of code. It’s better to use capital letters or an underscore to differentiate between words in your file name, for example ‘GinasWork’ or ‘Ginas_work’. You should also avoid the following symbols because they’re used in computer code so putting them into the file name is going to make things very difficult for your computer:

< (less than)
> (greater than)
: (colon)
” (double quote)
/ (forward slash)
\ (backslash)
| (vertical bar or pipe)
? (question mark)
* (asterisk)

Generally it’s better to just use letters and numbers and avoid any punctuation or spaces, as you would in an email address. The shorter and simpler your file name is, the quicker your computer will be able to find it and determine which program to use to open it. And good folder organisation will save time for both you and your computer.