12 Rules for Naming Files

The purpose of this Knowledge Article is to help SVSU employees stay organized by providing a common set of rules to apply when naming files. The conventions are primarily intended for use during the creation of word-processed documents, spreadsheets, presentations or other data files to be stored in a file storage location. Similar conventions should be applied to folders within a directory structure.


File naming conventions are a way of organizing files so they can be identified by their title or by how they are grouped with other files that might contain similar information.  Naming files according to an agreed convention allows colleagues to more easily distinguish between similar records for file retrieval and is a system for predictable file names in the future.

Information to Include

The first step in defining a successful file naming convention is to determine what information will allow you to distinguish your files from one another and be most useful in retrieving a file.  Some possibilities include:

  • Course, project or event name/acronym
  • Date/date range or year and semester
  • Person’s name/initials
  • Type of content/data
  • Research conditions
  • Research location
  • Version number

12 Rules of File Naming Conventions

This section adapted, with permission, from Gryzbowski, University of Edinburgh’s Records Management web site. Visit their site for more extensive examples and explanations.

1. Keep file names short, but meaningful.

Correct - /…/Orientation/20181105SchdlVlntrs.pdf
Incorrect - The_schedule_and_volunteers_for_Orientation_Nov_18.pdf
Explanation - If elements, like “the”, “and”, “for”, do not contribute to the meaning of the file name, within the context of the file directory, these elements can be removed. Use standard abbreviations when possible.

2. Avoid unnecessary repetition and redundancy in file names and folder names/file paths.

Correct - /…/Doe/Events/KidsNSibs/20181105BnceHsRsrvtn.pdf
Incorrect - /…/Doe/Events/KidsNSibs/20181105KidsNSibsBounceHouseReservation.pdf
Explanation – Organize files into folders that are named well and don’t repeat the folder name in the file name.

3. The most preferred is title case (FileName).  Less preferable are, no separation (filename), underscores (file_name), dashes (file-name), or spaces (File Name).

Correct/Preferred – PSYCSyllabus.docx
Incorrect/Not Preferred – PSYC_syllabus.docx, psych syllabus.docx, or psychology-syllabus
Explanation - Removing spaces, underscores or other marks reduces the length of the file name.  By using capital letters to differentiate between words, the file name is readable.

4. When including a number, use leading zeros to ensure files sort properly, i.e., “001, 002…101” instead of “1, 2…101”.

Correct – (In alphanumeric sort order) ) Image01.jpg, Image02.jpg, Image03.jpg, Image10.jpg, Image11.jpg, Image20.jpg

Incorrect – (In alphanumeric sort order) image1.jpg, image10.jpg, image11.jpg, image2.jpg, image20.jpg, image3.jpg
Explanation – When leading zeros are used, computer systems can arrange the files more accurately.

5. Date format should be YYYYMMDD (or YYMMDD) so years of files sort in chronological order.

Correct - 2018FAPSYC100SmithTest01V02.docx, 2018FAPSYC100SmithSyllabusV03.docx
Incorrect - test psychology smith Fall 18.docx, smith psych 100 syllabus Fall 2018.docx
Explanation – Including dates in YYYYMMDD format makes it possible for computer systems to sort files in a more useful order.

6. When including a personal name in a file name give the family name first followed by the initials.

Correct - DoeJL20180421.jpg
Incorrect -John-L-Doe20180421.jpg
Explanation – Beginning file names with a last name will group all the files related to a person in one location.  It will also sort all names in alphabetical order.

7. Avoid using common words such as “draft” or “letter” at the start of file names.

Correct – SyllabusV02Draft.docx, SyllabusV03Final.docx, TestV01Draft.docx, TestV04Final.docx
Incorrect - DraftSyllabusV02.docx, DraftTestV01.docx, FinalSyllabusV03.docx, FinalTestV04.docx
Explanation – By placing version numbers, “draft”, “final” or “letter” designations at the end of the file name, it allows related documents to be grouped together.  It is easier to view the progress of a document this way as opposed to having drafts of all documents clumped together.

8. Order the elements in a file name in the most appropriate way to retrieve the record.

Correct -



Incorrect -



​​​​​​​Explanation - Minutes and papers of a meeting are likely to be retrieved based on the date of the meeting, it is best to have the date at the start of the file name. If not, the agendas will come at the top of the directory list, followed by all the minutes, etc.However, because events are likely to be retrieved by the name of the event, rather than the date of the event, it is most useful to have that element first.

9. The file names of records relating to recurring events should include the date and a description of the event, except where the inclusion of either of these elements would be incompatible with rule 2.

Correct - KidsNSibs20181012.docx, KidsNSibs20191016.pdf, Orientation20180810.pptx
Incorrect – SibsWeekend.docx, WeekendWithTheKids.docx, 20180810.pptx
Explanation - Date first will usually be appropriate for events that are time specific and recurring. Event first will usually be appropriate for events that are infrequent, but regularly recurring.

10. The file names of correspondence should include the name of the correspondent, an indication of the subject, the date of the correspondence and whether it is incoming or outgoing correspondence, except where the inclusion of any of these elements would be incompatible with rule 2.

Correct – /…/Returns/DoeJL20180815rcvd.txt
Incorrect – LetterFromJohnDoeReReturnAug18.txt
Explanation - By including the name and date in the file name, correspondence records with an individual, will appear together in chronological order.  Incoming correspondence is indicated by "rcvd".  In this example, the subject is contained in the folder name.

11. The version number of a record should be indicated in its file name by the inclusion of ‘V’ followed by the version number and, where applicable, ‘Draft’.

Correct – SyllabusV02Draft.docx, SyllabusV03Final.docx, TestV01Draft.docx, TestV04Final.docx
Incorrect - DraftSyllabusV02.docx, DraftTestV01.docx, FinalSyllabusV03.docx, FinalTestV04.docx
Explanation - Version numbers given with two digits will appear in numeric order.

12. Avoid using special characters, i.e., ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ` ; < > ? , [ ] { } ‘ “

Correct - GardenParty20040630.rtf
Incorrect – “Picnic & Garden Party, June 30, 2004”.pdf
Explanation - Most non-alphanumeric characters can be omitted without loss of meaning. Hyphens can be used in place of forward slashes and brackets when necessary.


Brandt, Scott. “Data Management for Undergraduate Researchers: File Naming Conventions.” Library Guides, Purdue University, 12 June 2017, guides.lib.purdue.edu/c.php?g=353013&p=2378293.

Data Management Services. “Best Practices for File Naming.” Data Management Services, Stanford Library, accessed 06 June 2018, library.stanford.edu/research/data-management-services/data-best-practices/best-practices-file-naming.

Gryzbowski, Anne.  “Records Management: Naming Conventions.” University of Edinburgh, July 2007, www.ed.ac.uk/records-management/guidance/records/practical-guidance/naming-conventions.

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Article ID: 94177
Tue 12/10/19 3:09 PM
Tue 3/7/23 11:10 AM

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