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Organize Files and Data

File organization with a logical, clear structure and labeling system not only enables others to access your data, but also makes it easier for you to find your own data. These are the public's data, and we have a stewardship responsibility to the data.

Best Practices 

  • Document your organizational structure and if it makes sense, use it as a basis for organizing your files; otherwise, use a logical naming convention for files and folders.
    • Example:
      • Proposals > 2011
      • Proposals > 2012
  • Use consistent file names and formats within a project.
    • If using abbreviations in file or folder names, ensure that others are using the same abbreviations.
      • Consider including a "readme" file along with the data that spells out any abbreviations or acronyms.
    • Make sure that names are unambiguous and describe the contents satisfactorily.
    • If including dates in the filenames, use a consistent format, such as YYYYDDMM.
    • Consider using underscores "_" or dashes "-" instead of spaces in file names, as not all computer systems accept spaces.
    • Use consistent names from project to project.
      • Example: if a folder is named "photos" in one directory, don't use "images" elsewhere for a file of photographs.
  • Use version control.
    • Example: "red_moth_analysis_v1.doc" or "red_moth_analysis_FINAL.doc"
  • Use a consistent naming convention for long-term data preservation. [see Preserve > Archiving and Preserve > Disposition]
    • Organize based on the next step or status (e.g., Draft, Disposition).
  • When backing up your data, use an automated backup software which will mirror and preserve file structures. [see Back Up & Secure]
  • Use colors to group folders together visually.


Example: Why File Organization Matters 

A wildlife biologist for a small field office was the in-house GIS expert and provided support for all the staff's GIS needs. However, the data were stored on her own workstation. When the biologist relocated to another office, no one understood how the data were stored or managed.

  • Solution: A state office GIS specialist retrieved the workstation and sifted through files trying to salvage relevant data.
  • Cost: One work-month ($4,000) plus the value of data that were not recovered.


What the U.S. Geological Survey Manual Requires: 

The USGS Manual Handbook for Managing Records, 432-1-H, October 1990 covers both physical and electronic files:

"This Survey Manual Handbook (432-l-H) supplements the USGS Files Management Program objectives set forth in SM 431.1 (Records Management Program) and SM 431.9 (Micrographics) Specifically, it prescribes standards and procedures to ensure that adequate and proper records are made and preserved to fully document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures and essential transactions of the U.S. Geological Survey; and to furnish the information necessary to protect the legal and financial rights of the USGS and persons directly affected by its activities."

The USGS Manual Geology Discipline Research Records Schedule 432-1-S5 discusses the creation of a filing system and filing plan. While directed at retiring employees, it is applicable to everyone:

"Retiring Employees: If you haven't established a filing system and file plan, now is the time to do it. Ask a records management specialist for help. The file plan will follow your permanent records to records centers and archives, to ensure that your scientific legacy is not lost."


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