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Manage Your Research Data: File Formats & Naming

Resources to help you prepare your data for open access and archiving

Challenges of File Management

  • Inconsistently labeled files
  • in multiple versions
  • inside poorly structured folders
  • stored on multiple media
  • in multiple locations
  • and in various formats

Electronic Files Best Practices

  • Select consistent formats that can be read well into the future independent of changes in proprietary applications:
  • Non-proprietary (open) formats,
  • Using documented standards,
  • Unencrypted (whenever possible),
  • Uncompressed (if space allows),
  • ASCII formatted files are most accessible
  • Cite in the metadata any software package, version and operating system platform required to read and work with your data, especially if proprietary
  • If multiple files comprise the data file structure that should be specified in the metadata

File Naming

File naming conventions make life easier!

  • Help you find your data 
  • Help others find your data
  • Help track which version of a file is most current

File Naming Best Practices

  • Avoid special characters in a file name 
  • Use capitals or underscores instead of periods or spaces
  • Use 25 or fewer characters
  • Use documented & standardized descriptive information about the project/experiment
  • Use date format YYYYMMDD (ISO 8601)
  • Include a version number 
Comic illustrating file naming conventionsImage credit: Jorge Cham, PhD Comics

File Formats

Examples of preferred formats for various data types include:

  • Moving Images: MOV, MPEG, MP4
  • Audio: WAV, MP3
  • Numbers/statistics: (comma delimited) ASCII, SAS
  • Images: TIFF, JPEG, PNG
  • Text: PDF/A, ASCII

Data formats that offer the best chance for long-term access are both:

  • Non-proprietary (also known as open), and
  • Unencrypted  and uncompressed

Information can be lost when converting to preferred file formats. To mitigate the risk of lost information:

  • Note conversion steps taken
  • If possible, keep the original file as well as the converted one 
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