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Filename Etiquette and Guidelines

Please note: Official College documentation should follow as many of the following guidelines as is appropriate. The actual file naming conventions used in each case should be agreed at a local level with your line manager.

The three most important points for good filenames are to keep them simple, straightforward and logical. A well-named file is easy to locate and manage, makes the content of the file obvious and shows when the file relates to. It can also help when sorting files, for example if you wish to list them in chronological order. The aim is to save time and avoid frustration.

Recommendations for Filenames

In summary, the most important filename elements to consider are:

  • Description of content e.g. minutes.doc
  • Relevant date e.g. minutes_2010_06_18.doc
  • Version number e.g. minutes_2010_06_18_v1.doc
  • Name of group associated e.g. minutes_board_2010_06_18_v1.doc
  • Name of creator or recipient e.g. minutes_2010_06_18_v1_jbloggs.doc

Naming similar files following an agreed convention will make them easier to locate.

The nature of your data and the intended audience will help you to choose which of the above options to use for your name.

Be Concise

Shorter filenames are easier to type, read and remember. They will not appear truncated in directory displays i.e. Windows Explorer. However avoid using abbreviations in filenames which obscure the true contents i.e. ‘age’ instead of ‘agenda’; use rich descriptive language.

Ascertain and Predict

Remember: If it feels like it is getting too complicated then it probably is! Naming a file should not require too much effort. Use brief, distinctive key words.

Do not change filenames often. Filenames should outlast the records creator who originally named the file. Good filenames will make sense to staff members once the file creators are no longer available, and someone looking for the file will be able to ascertain key words if they need to search for the document.

Automatic Order

It can save a lot of time to have your files automatically order themselves. Where you are working with a group of similar files you can number the filenames. Take note however that if 12 documents are named tutorial1.doc, tutorial2.doc, through to tutorial12.doc, the names will automatically file in the directory in the order tutorial1.doc, tutorial10.doc, tutorial11.doc, tutorial12.doc, tutorial2.doc through to tutorial9.doc, which is not desired. However if you were to name them tutorial01.doc, tutorial02.doc, this will automatically put files in their logical order from 01 to 12.

For similar reasons when using dates in filenames it is best to follow the convention of filename_yyyy_mm_dd.doc or filename_yyyymmdd.doc so that when the files are ordered they will list in chronological order.

Where there are likely to be several iterations of a file, you will need to determine how and whether to indicate the version e.g. filename_v1.doc, filename_v2.doc.


There are a couple of constraints that are useful to know when naming files:

Only use certain special characters such as hyphens or underscores

e.g. meeting_minutes_2010_06_18.doc. Many non-alphanumeric characters, including spaces, should not be used in filenames. Sometimes what is allowed varies from server to server or even from time to time on the same server. For example, though the ampersand (&) is a legal filename character for some services, it may not be accepted by others. Documents being uploaded to the College web server will have any spaces in the file name replaced with ‘%20’ in the URL, resulting in a long and difficult to read URL or path.

Use lower case only in filenames to avoid confusion and multiple unwanted versions.

Some servers treat upper and lower case letters as the same and some treat them differently, and as above the behaviour may vary from one service to another. For example the College web server would allow you to publish a file named ‘minutes.doc’ when you had wanted it to override a file named ‘Minutes.doc’, leaving you with two files instead of one.

Other Helpful Hints

  • Use a similar convention when you are naming folders in your filing
  • Put the filename in the footer of each document
  • Only save documents in standard MS Word formats such as .doc or .docx and not .rtf or other formats. A similar approach should be taken with other data types.

Other College Documentation Guidelines and Policies