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.

Electronic Document Naming Conventions: General Guidance

Standard document naming conventions are important to facilitate better searching, access and retrieval of files and documents. It also allows for sorting of files in a logical sequence either alphabetically or numerically.

Because files are arranged alphabetically or numerically it is important to name documents with the classifier that most users will think of first to access that particular document. Ideally document naming conventions should include at the minimum the following information:

• Title or Topic

• Type of Document (i.e. Agenda, Briefing, Form, Template, Minutes, Report, etc.)

• Date

• Version Number, if applicable

Avoid using words such as “general or miscellaneous” in file name conventions. Be sure to make naming conventions clear, complete and avoid abbreviations when possible.  The document name should include all necessary descriptive information independent of the file name where it is stored or located. This is essential for users to search for documents by topics and or key words. At the end of specified document naming conventions users can add additional adjectives or words that further describe that document.

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