4 min read

File Naming Conventions: Best Practices for Naming Files

As a management consultant, I regularly deal with a large number of files. Each project comes with multiple deliverables, each having many iterations, versions, and dates of submission.

The inflow of client data, coupled with the inception of new projects every few months, and the vast quantity of internal files (such as intellectual property, resources, training materials, research, etc.) leads to an accumulation of a significant number of files. Hence, staying organized is not just crucial, it's imperative.

Over the years, I've learned first-hand the significant impact that a well-thought-out file naming convention can have on managing this sea of information. My drive for optimization led me to devise an effective file naming convention that maximizes the ease of locating files when needed.

In the following sections, I present the best practices I've discovered, along with the file naming convention I personally use at work. These practices have been shaped by my own experiences, insights from senior peers at my consulting firm, and extensive research into naming conventions.

Sample file naming convention

A file naming convention (FNC) is a framework used to name your files in a consistent format which describes what they contain and how they relate to other files. Think of it like creating a clear label for a folder in a filing cabinet.

To provide a clearer perspective, let's break down a hypothetical filename which describes the convention I personally use at work:


  • Element 1: Helps identify the project or collection the item belongs to
  • Element 2 and 3: Helps identify what the specific item is
  • I use underscores to separate elements in the file name, and spaces or camel case to separate words within an element

Depending on your needs, the elements in the naming convention can vary. For instance, in a consulting project, it could look something like this:


Here, Client and ProjectName provide a general context as to what group the file belongs to, followed by FileDescription which helps identify the actual contents of the file itself. It is then followed by the date in ISO 8601 format, and ends with the version number. The .xxx represents the file extension, indicating the file type (e.g., .doc for Word documents, .pdf for PDFs, etc.).

Best practices for file naming conventions

#1: Keep names concise (<30 characters if possible)

  • Abbreviations are helpful; however, ensure they are defined in a readme file
  • Use context (e.g. parent folders) to avoid redundant/lengthy names

#2: Be consistent within your project

  • All team members should use the same file naming convention (either a company standard or agreed upon at the beginning of a project)
  • A consistent naming convention allows you to immediately recognize the significance of each element in a file name
  • This practice minimizes confusion and ensures that everyone can easily locate and identify files

#3: Use ISO 8601 formatted dates (YYYYMMDD or YYYY-MM-DD)

  • This format is widely used across a number of industries
  • Place dates at the beginning of the file name if you want to sort chronologically
  • Alternatively, you can group files by placing common elements before dates (files with the name elements will be grouped together and then sorted chronologically)

#4: Always pre-pad smaller numbers with zeros in a sequence (e.g., 01, 02, ..., 10)

  • This ensures a correct alphabetical order for sequential numbers.

#5: Determine the element order based on relevance or generality

Option 1: Arrange elements from general to specific details as much as possible

  • For example: ProjectName_TaskName_YYYYMMDD_v01.xxx
  • Elements can be ordered from general to specific detail of importance as much as possible
  • Your files are grouped together based on the first few components so start your File Naming Convention with the more general components and move to the more specific ones later on
  • Dates should be ordered: YEAR, MONTH, DAY

Option 2: Put the most important information first, considering how you'll search for the file

  • For example: YYYYMMDD_ProjectName_TaskName_v01.xxx
  • The computer arranges files by name, character by character
  • Think about how you want to sort and search for your files in order to determine the order for the metadata in the file name
  • Use default ordering: alphabetically, numerically, or chronologically
  • If you anticipate wanting to find a file by date, then put the date first

#6: An element for version control should start with v followed by at least 2 digits and should be placed as the last element (e.g. “v01” or “v02”)

  • Including version numbers in file names ensures that everyone is working on the most current document, and maintains a record of document changes over time
  • This is sometimes no longer necessary given that many modern applications (like Word and PowerPoint) have built-in version control

#7: Avoid special characters, such as: ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) ; : < > ? . , { } ' " |

  • Special characters can cause issues across different operating systems

#8: Deliberately separate metadata elements

  • Determine the characters you will use to separate each piece of metadata in the file
  • Use dashes (-), underscores (_), or capitalize the first letter of each word
  • Dashes: file-name.xxx
  • Underscores: file_name.xxx
  • No separation: filename.xxx
  • Camel case (the first letter of each section of text is capitalized): FileName.xxx
  • If you prefer elements which contain more than one word, avoid using spaces to separate elements so you can use them to separate words within an element

#9: Choose 2-3 descriptors to identify the project or collection the item belongs to and what the specific item is

  • Example: Client_ProjectName_DocumentType_v01.xxx

#10: Document naming conventions in a readme

  • Direct all team members to the readme to ensure consistent file naming

Adopting a solid file naming convention is an important step towards ensuring a streamlined and effective document management process. It’s a simple yet powerful tool that greatly enhances collaboration, efficiency, and productivity in any project. What file naming conventions have you found to be most effective? Share your experiences in the comments below!