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Research Data Management

Learn how to manage your research data throughout the data lifecycle: including data management plans, data organization, file formats, as well as data sharing/re-use.

Organizing Your Data

Keeping track of documents and datasets is critical while you are still conducting the research and promotes the understanding and reusability of your data.

There are two main strategies that can assist you in organizing your data while collecting research:

1. Use a Naming Convention for individual files

2. Grouping your files into meaningful datasets (File Structure)

1. Using a Naming Convention

Consistent and clear Naming Conventions is the best strategy to assist you in keeping your files organized.

If your lab of research group does not already have an established naming convention these are some best practices to apply when creating your own. :

  • Use file naming consistently
  • Make sure the names clearly represent what the file is (descriptive) –Identify the activity of project in the file name
  • Use short informative words or phrases and try to keep file names under 25 characters
  • Avoid using these symbols "/\:*<>[]&$
  • Use underscores (_) not spaces to separate terms
  • Use a consistent date format, eg YYYYMMDD. Also, including the date at the beginning or the end of the filename assists with sorting.

There are tools available that can assist you with retrospectively renaming your files based on a convention


Renamer -

ExifToolGUI -


Advanced Renamer -

ExifToolGUI -


2. Folder Structure

Creating a systematic file folder structure allows you easily locate your data and helps others easily navigate through your files. Best practices for creating a consistent and understandable file folder structure include:

  • Folders named for major functions/activities
  • Structure by date or event (especially subfolders)
  • Names should be self explanatory
  • Avoid duplication
  • Make it simple and consistent

MIT has created a worksheet to help you work through developing a file naming convention and creating a systematic file folder hierarchy. Download the Worksheet

Version Control

You can also track changes to your files with version control. You may need to go back to earlier versions or the original version of your data. Always save an original untouched version of your data! You can manage versions 2 ways:

Manually: Use a sequential numbered system: v01, v02 (Don't use confusing labels, such as 'revision', 'final', 'final2', etc.)

Use version control software (SVN) such as Mercurial, or TortoiseSVN, which can track revisions to files and help you roll back to a previous version of a file.