A consistent and logical data organization is the key to ensure efficient access to your data throughout and beyond the entire research process. Hence, it will be crucial to get your data organized in the following aspects:
A well-organized file structure enables you to easily locate the files that you need at a glance. Here are some useful tips to structure your data folders to make it easier to locate and organize files and versions:
When planning for a good file structure, you should:
A hierarchical folder structure is the the organization of files into a "tree" structure hierarchically to divide files into categories, such as by subject, time, location, and format, etc. Here are some tips to build a good hierarchical folder structure:
It is important to have a well-described documentation of your file directory structure, especially when you are collaborating with others. You are recommended to document your file directory structure e.g. in a readme.txt file, to describe and determine where the files should be stored so as to enable you and your collaborators to keep consistency in record keeping over time. Please see here for more about data documentation.
Watch this video to learn about how to prepare a useful readme file:
Source: Harvard Library. (2020, September 3). Online Short-Seminar: What's in a README? [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/RR1nhKhbabI
Not all data files can be accommodated within a hierarchical structure. In such cases, you may choose to add some tags to the data files to make them searchable by tags. Read the LibGuide by MIT Libraries to learn about how to tag your files.
You can also read the guide by MIT Communication Lab to learn more about the best practices of creating successful file structures.
Source: Diana, C. (2013). File Structure. Available online: https://mitcommlab.mit.edu/broad/commkit/file-structure/
A good file name should be short but descriptive which gives useful hints on the content, status and version of a file. Here are the rules for naming files efficiently:
Image source: Archiving for the Future. (n.d.). Filenaming tips. Available at: https://archivingforthefuture.teachable.com/courses/test-page/lectures/22161223
It is always a good practice to keep multiple versions of your data files to reduce risks of corruption and data loss as well as to enable you to easily revert to previous versions of files. To implement an effective manual version control, you will need to:
Save raw data and milestone versions as read-only files, preferably in separate folders
Always remember to keep at least one copy of the original data
Use a systematic, consistent naming convention to name different versions of files
Include version numbering or date in the file names, e.g. "Filename_v01", "Filename_20220201"
Use at least two digits with a leading zero for your version numbering to enable correct sorting
Extend the file name for minor changes when needed, e.g. "Filename_v01-01", "Filename_v01.01"
Avoid using ambiguity such as "Filename_final_final"
For collaborative project, also include author initials to indicate who made changes to the file
Keeping files organized during your research is a key aspect of data management. In this knowledge clip, we have a look at the different aspects of file organization (file naming, folder structure and version control), and provide tips and best practices.
Source: UGent Data Stewards. (2021, September 29). Knowledge clip: Keeping research data organized [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/YslfY4W-NAg
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