Case study: File naming

This is an example from a collection of digital research data collected by Science Data Librarian Amy Hodge from 1997-1999 for her dissertation research. It illustrates some of the problems that you might experience if you do not establish appropriate naming conventions for your files. See best practices for file naming for more details or our other case study of file naming done well.

Download our File Naming Best Practices + Examplar handout (pdf)!

Mac finder window showing files with bad file names, screen shot by Amy Hodge

The good news

Amy still understands what some portions of these file names mean:

  • DAPI detects the location of DNA.
  • 1-284 refers to the portion of the protein that is present in the cells. Based on these numbers, Amy also knows what the protein was.
  • 12CA5 is an antibody. HA is the antigen that 12CA5 recognizes. 

The bad news

Some of the information in the file names no longer makes any sense to Amy. For example, she no longer knows what "-10," "-20" or "noPrim" refer to. She also no longer remembers what DM1A and 3F10 are, though they may be other antibodies. When the 12CA5 and HA notations are used in different file names do they indicate the same thing or different things about the experiments? Amy doesn't know.

These file names also lack a lot of Information that Amy would need to know to be able to understand what each of these experiments is, such as what kind of yeast were used in each experiment, whether the expression of the protein was turned on or not, and what portion of the protein is present for all those file names that do not say "1-284."

Best practices 

  • The files shown above are named inconsistently; a consistent naming scheme would have helped make their names more comprehensible. 
  • Use of more descriptive information in the file names would also have made it easier to figure out 15 years later what the files contain. 
  • Including a readme.txt file in this folder with explanations of the experiments or at a minimum the naming scheme for the files would have also been helpful.