Organising research data

"Not one system is going to put structure in your data, because it doesn't understand your research. The structure comes from you." - Patrick Vandewalle

    Main points

If you want your research data to be easily traced and interpreted, it is vital to store it in a structured and consistent way with appropriate data documentation (metadata). The folder structure used for the data and the file names for the data files should be logical (see box). 


Maybe the researcher already uses a system that contains a certain degree of structure. Maybe a folder structure is already in place and when data is uploaded, basic meta data such as author, date etc. have to be added, datalab such as Dataverse network(1) or a datalab created in Sharepoint are good examples

Meaningful file names
Meaningful file names

Meaningful file names

Below are tips on meaningful and consistent file names. Read more in 'Naming files and folders'.(2)

  • Make sure to use consistent file names. When you use a date in the file name, choose a notation (for instance, YYYYMMDD of yymmdd).
  • Do not use strange characters like ?\!@*%{[<> in the file name. 
  • Use traceable file names, such as Project_Instrument_locatie_YYYYMMDD.ext.
  • Make sure to only use each file once in the folder structure. If you store a file in more than one place, several versions of the same file can unwillingly be created.  
  • See also version management.

It is good practice to note the file naming and its meaning in a readme.txt. 

Even if a researcher is well underway with his project consistent file naming is still an option by using a bulk file rename utility.(3) It is important, however, to check if this bulk renamer delivers on its promises. 


Below you will find the suggested folder structure and file names from the data management plan(4) by Beatriz Ramirez for her research at Wageningen University. 

  Sources and additional reading

Click to open/close
  1. Dataverse Network. Retrieved from
  2. University of Leicester. Naming files and folders. Retrieved from
  3. Bulk Rename Utility for Windows. Retrieved from
  4. Ramirez, B. (2013). Data management plan. Retrieved from (example DMP 2)

Additional reading