Organizing files and folders

Library staff, 1968The management and retrieval of files can be enhanced if you can handle them in large sets, rather than one by one. Therefore, it is important that you group your files in some logical manner. The categories chosen may reflect the way you work, your activities, procedures, thematic areas, or some sort of structural organization.

Separating your records from other materials is an important first step. The organization of your records may be based on the different types of records or the length of time for which certain kinds of records need to be kept. These groupings can be related to each other in a hierarchical or flat way, as best suits your needs. Generally, this structure should be consistent with the organization of any paper records you have (or records in other media), so that all records related to the same activity or subject, or of the same type, can be easily identified and retrieved as part of one conceptual grouping, as needed.

We recommend your organization scheme be recorded in a document that shows all the groupings of materials, describes them in a brief sentence, and indicates how they are related. In this document, which is called a classification scheme or filing plan, each grouping of records can be assigned a code or a name that should be linked to each record belonging in the same grouping no matter what the medium or location: thus, the records assigned to each grouping will share such code or name.

Identifying how long groupings of records need to be retained will facilitate their management while they are regularly needed and help ensure that records that need or merit long-term preservation are tagged early and given proper protection to ensure their survival. 

You will find it easier and more efficient to assign a retention period—the length of time you want or need to keep materials—to a grouping of materials, rather than to individual items. Trying to ensure that some things are kept as long as needed while weeding out things that are no longer needed is simply too cumbersome at the individual item level. While you may think that within a grouping some records should be kept longer than others, not only will you save time if you keep the whole grouping, but you will also have more complete information when you need to refer to the records. 

For help with setting up classification schemes and determining retention periods please contact us at

Folder naming guidelines

  • Create names that will allow useful sorting
  • Keep names as short as possible and make them easy to read (Windows, OS X, and Linux all limit names to 255 characters)
  • Include only alphanumeric characters
  • Use camel case to distinguish words (e.g. SenateMinutes)
  • Avoid spaces, abbreviations, and most symbols except underscore “_” and hyphen “-“
  • Format dates to enhance sorting; for proper sorting, date order should be YYYY-MM-DD (e.g. Minutes_2013-06-13)


Performing a regular backup of the critical files on your computer is one of the most important aspects of being a responsible computer user. Critical files include documents that you create as well as other unique files such as your email in box. Backups are particularly important for original research data — data that can represent months or years of work, and that can be nearly impossible to recreate. Some people may also want to back up critical application and system files, though this can be cumbersome and time consuming, and in many cases, not really necessary.

Note: some departments on campus provide their own backup facilities. If you're not sure how (or even if) your system is being backed up, check with your department's computer systems administrator.

For more information about check out ITS Backup and Recovery Services.

Sources and references