Electronic Document Naming Conventions: Best Practices

Document Naming Convention SamplesThere is some good written guidance on document and file naming conventions. Below are a few entities that have made available their best practices on document naming conventions and protocol.

This PC Magazine article, Getting Organized: Great Tips for Better File Names, provides some good context on why document naming conventions are so important and general aspects to consider when naming documents to make them easier to find.

Electronic Document Naming Conventions: Versioning

It is important to track various versions of documents when there have been significant and substantial changes in the context, format, or edit of a document. Usually version numbers are used to denote various versions of documents. A small “v” should be used with a sequential number following. Example: Document Naming Guidelines_v1. When creating multiple versions, make sure to use the same document name and title for all versions. A significant date can be added to the document name before the version number and/or if relevant to the new version.

It can also be helpful if there are multiple reviewers to add the initials or team name after the version number of the person who conducted those revisions. For a person’s name, use the first name initial and last name.

When multiple versions of a particular document have been finalized the word “FINAL” in capital letters is recommended to be used at the end of the document name. This is helpful to quickly identify the final version of all the prior versions. If there is another version after the “final” has been released, then the previous final should be renamed to the next version number and the new final version should be renamed “FINAL.”

To learn more how to organize computer documents, download the free report How to Organize Your Computer Documents.

Electronic Document Naming Conventions Tips

Document naming conventions are important to facilitate better searching, access and retrieval of electronic files and documents whether on a personal computer or shared drive network. The following are items to be mindful of when creating document naming conventions:

  • Separators: An underscore (_) or dash (-) is recommended to use as the only separators for document naming conventions. This assists users to read naming conventions easily as well as clarifies separation of text for system search functions. Avoid using special charters in a document name such as: \ / : ; * ? “” < > [] & $. These characters may present errors in various systems that do not recognize them in document names.
  • Length of Document Name: Document file path and name on a Shared Drive cannot exceed 255 characters (this includes the file path of a document name and includes all characters including slashes, dashes, periods, underscores and spaces). It is important to be mindful when naming documents in a file folder that is a level six (6) or greater to keep it concise.
  • Use of Acronyms: In order to maximize search functionality spell out words and refrain from acronyms to the extent necessary to ensure clarity. Use only abbreviations and acronyms that are considered ‘global’ in use within the organization and identified on the organizations acronyms list.

To learn more how to organize computer documents, download the free report How to Organize Your Computer Documents.

Electronic Document Naming Conventions: Date Standards

It is highly recommended for all electronic documents to include a date as an element in the document name. Dates can be standardized in the international date standard numerical format with underscores(_) between year_month_day, YYYY_MM_DD. This format allows ease of sorting and comparing files by date and prevents confusion with other date formats.

The date should be defined by business needs and what is most useful for retrieval purposes. The date used could be the creation date of the file, the date the file was modified or finalized, or a date of central importance to the file.  For example, a date on a presentation would be the date the presentation was given, or a date on an audit report would be the day the audit was conducted.  When files and documents are moved from one computer to a server or other cloud-based systems the system assigns a new ‘creation date’. This new date will change to the date that data was moved to the new local hardware or system and not keep the original ‘created date’ of the document. Thus the creation date can be lost if not recorded in the document naming convention. Further, when emailing documents, it is helpful for a user to see a date associated with a document within the name, especially if there are multiple versions associated with a document.

To learn more how to organize computer documents, download the free report How to Organize Your Computer Documents.

Considerations in Choosing a Document Management System

Depositphotos_1833085_xsCurrently, there are hundreds of Document Management Systems (DMS) systems on the market. Although the basic functionality is similar, it is important to consider multiple factors before recommending an electronic record keeping system. These issues are important because they will inherently affect the use and trust employees have on a DMS system. Employees who trust the cloud-based document management system to save, retrieve, and manage documentation easily, quickly, and reliably will be more apt to use and adopt the system. Some electronic file systems were designed with a focus on an industry or profession. These systems have additional features and functionality specifically related to that industry. Other document systems are more broad-based and can be used with any profession and/ or industry and customized accordingly.

Some key issues for clients to consider before purchasing a DMS system include the following:

  • Size of system required. Determine how much file storage your organization is currently using on the server. And how much storage will be needed on an annual basis.
  • Scanning functionality. It is important to have robust scanning options when moving towards a paperless office. The DMS system should have scan software options available.
  • Search functionality. The search functionality is probably one of the more important aspects to consider when choosing a DMS system. This is a key element for finding and retrieving data quickly. It is important to have the ability to search using multiple fields such as keywords, date created, author, etc. Make sure the system is speedy and can display results in five to ten seconds. Having robust search functionality builds trust in the system, and employees will have a tendency to adopt the system more quickly.
  • Ease of use and user training. Any new software in an organization requires staff training. Make sure the DMS system seems user friendly and intuitive to non-IT related employees. Engage a few employees to test the proposed DMS system, and observe the ease of navigating the system. Be sure to inquire about the type and cost of training programs the vendor offers.
  • Permissions. To ensure confidential data is secure, it will be important to understand the function of access rights within the system. Ideally, the system should allow the author of the document the capability to grant permission to the appropriate job level and/ or specific individuals.
  • Recognition and integration with other systems. The DMS system should easily integrate and recognize other major software systems used by the organization. It will be important to test various document formats and files to ensure capability. Make sure that the DMS system can search email profiles to find specific emails.
  • Retention. Make sure the DMS system has strong retention functionality. Fields should be available to denote how long a document should be retained. Industry-specific DMS systems should have built-in compliance guidance. If the system has an auto-delete function based on the retention inputted, be clear on the system process of those deleted documents.
  • File hierarchy structure. Make sure the system has the ability to create and design a file hierarchy. File hierarchies are still important for users who think of data and documents related to a specific file structure.
  • Scalability and transferability. As with all systems, an organization will eventually outgrow them. First determine if the prospective system has the capacity and functionality to grow along with the business. If the client company decides to use another DMS system, determine if the data can be easily migrated into a new more robust DMS system.
  • Upgradability. It is important for the vendor to have a few upgrades to show improvements in the system, but if there is a significant upgrade every year, this cost might need to be budgeted annually and/ or prohibitive to an organization.
  • Backup. Although all companies have an internal backup system, the DMS system should also have its own backup utility. Find out what type of format or encryption code is used. Be clear on the restore process if data is ever needed and/ or lost.