Research Data Organization

We assist researchers with data organization and documentation best practices.

File Naming Conventions

File names and a simple hierarchy will make files easier to locate. Set up conventions for your project, document them for all team members and be consistent! 


  • Keep file names short, descriptive, and agree on and follow consistent conventions with your team
  • Try to keep file hierarchies shallow, and no more than 4 levels deep
  • Limit the number of files to around 10 files per folder
  • Keep track of versions through either date and time or a numbering system (v01, v01-01, v02-01, v03-01, etc.)


  • Use standard dates in YYYY-MM-DD format (2022-07-23)
  • Use a short identifier (e.g Project Name or Grant #)
  • Include a summary of content (e.g Questionnaire or GrantProposal) as file name
  • Use_as delimiters. Avoid special characters (i.e., &,*%#*()!@${}[)
  • Keep track of document versions either sequentially or within a unique date and time
  • Make folder hierarchies as simple as possible

Data Documentation

Without description, data is hard to understand and use. Make your data FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) by describing it with metadata (data about data). Metadata is sometimes captured through deposit in data repositories, but you can also prepare data dictionaries, codebooks and README files to further describe and contextualize your work. 

README files

README files are plain text documents that sit at the top level of project folders and describe the purpose of the project, contact details, and organization of files. Including a README with your work helps ensure that future users will understand the data, any terms, and more. 

README files should include: 

  • Title
  • Principle Investigator(s)
  • Dates/Locations of data collection
  • Keywords
  • Language
  • Funding
  • Descriptions of every folder, file, format, data collection method, instruments, etc. 
  • Definitions
  • People involved
  • Recommended citation