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Data Management: Data Formatting

Resources for managing your data

What is data formatting?

Data formatting is the decision you make on what type of file type to use in order to ensure its compatibility with multiple hardware, software, and devices. Data formatting also extends to the naming your files.

File Naming Conventions

What is it?

"A File Naming Convention (FNC) is a framework for naming your files in a way that describes what they contain and how they relate to other files.  Developing an FNC is done through identifying the key elements of the project, the important differences and commonalities between your files. These elements could include things like the date of creation, author's name, project name, name of a section or a sub-section of the project, the version of the file, etc. An advantage to using unique and standardized filenames is the ability to follow path names and link to other systems that require unique filenames." Purdue Libraries

Below are some suggestions for information to include in your file names that will allow you and others to distinguish your files from one another. 

  • Project, group, or experiment name (common acronyms or meaningful abbreviations are okay)
  • Location/spatial coordinates
  • Researcher name/initials
  • Date or date range (format YYYYMMDD)
  • Type of data
  • Conditions
  • Version number of file

Other Tips

  • Keep file names as short as possible while including enough information to distinguish between other files.
  • Avoid special characters ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ` ; < > ? , [ ] { } ' " .
  • Start file names with the more general components and move to more specific components.
  • When using a sequential numbering system, using leading zeros for clarity (001, 002, 003...)
  • Do no use spaces as some software will not recognize file names with spaces. Instead use underscores (, dashes (, no spaces (, and/or camel case (
  • Be sure everyone uses the file naming convention consistently, otherwise it doesn't work.

File Renaming Software

If you need to rename multiple files because the files were named incorrectly, you can use software to do so. Check out two choices below.


File Formats

Formats likely to be accessible in the future are:

  • Non-proprietary
  • Open, with documented standards
  • In common usage by the research community
  • Using standard character encodings (i.e., ASCII, UTF-8)
  • Uncompressed (space permitting)

Files should be unencrypted and uncompressed.

Type of Data Recommended Formats AVOID These Formats
Plain text .txt, .xml, .html .docx, .doc, .rtf
Tabular text / Excel .csv, .tsv .xlsx, .xls
Image .tiff, .jpg2, .png, .gif .jpg, .psd
Documents .pdf/a, .epub .azw
Archiving .zip .rar
Storage Cloud CD-ROM, USB drive
Databases .xml, .csv  
Audio .wav, .mp3, .aif, .aiff  
Video .mp4 .mov
Presentations .pdf/a, .epub .ppt, .pptx