Learn to Name Your Files

Naming computer files thoughtfully is much more important than people think and it’s never too late to start doing it better. Improper file names can cause problems when you transmit files to other people or upload them to an online service, it can wreak havoc to archived files and make it much harder to find things later. Often, you won’t even know that the file name is the issue when you get a strange error message about a file.

Here are a few musts and good habits to get you going…


  1. Use ONLY appropriate characters. Letters, numbers, dashes and under-scores and one period right before the extension. That’s it and that’s all you should ever use in a file name. Do NOT use punctuation marks, spaces and other characters in a file name like !@#$%^&*()+=<>/?\}{[];:’”.  Having these characters can cause problems for as you archive files, send them to other people, or upgrade software.
  2. Always, include the extension. Microsoft Office is a common culprit and allows you save without the extension. Office does not know best in this case. The extension is important and you should always have it.
    Not sure what a extension is?
    The file extension is the short sort of suffix at the end of a file name that tells the computer what kind of file it is, here a couple common extensions: .PDF or .JPG or .DOC


  • Include dates in your file names, if you do this pick one way to enter the date and do it that way always. You can be super simple like 20110309 for March 9, 2011 or more literal like “march9-2011”. Either way, remember to include the year.
  • Utilize common abbreviations and/or client codes that may already exist in your bookkeeping.
  • Remember that your computer automatically organizes files numerically and alphabetically. Use this feature to your advantage and number folders so they are in a more intuitive order.
  • Serial numbers are particularly helpful when you have a bulk of files like photos. When you first download photos onto your computer, tell the program you are using how you want the files named and to add a serial number automatically. Do this when you download or you may have to do it manually later.
  • Include an edit or version number to your files names. This is especially important for files that are updated every year or by several individuals.

It is easy to quickly name a file and forget it, but spending the five seconds now may save you many hours of searching or recreating later. Name those files thoughtfully the first time and save yourself the hassle.

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