Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Data management - Post 3 - File organisation and naming protocols

By Maxine Whitfield

A few weeks earlier: "I'll just 'save to desktop' now since I'm in a rush, but I'll sort everything really, really soon..."

Folders within folders, within other folders... 

I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have your data and associated documents sorted and named logically. Structure your directory of folders hierarchically, but don’t rely on the structure of the directory to give you critical information about a file. If the file is copied elsewhere, you’ll lose the structure. So, for example, it makes more sense to have the following folder system...

WinterSiteB  >>  WinterSiteB_SociableWeaver  >>  WinterSiteB_SociableWeaver_Tb

... rather than

WinterSiteB  >>  SociableWeaver  >>  Tb

File naming

Your file names should be relevant and meaningful, and provide the “what, when, where and how” of the the file. Be consistent, and rather tha using spaces, use underscores or capital letters to make computer searches for files more successful. If you are using dates, use the format YYYY_MM_DD, or YYYYMMDD. Names of authors/data collectors should be full initials, or surname first, followed by initials.

Versions of the same file

Your dissertation/thesis is going to go through many rounds of comments, first from your supervisor\s and then from your external examiners towards the end of your degree. If you try to do everything from one document, you will lose a vast amount of information through the editing process. You have to save each version separately, so that you have the means to go “back in time”, and follow the evolution of your study as it becomes more refined. Save your first version with the suffix “before comments” and the date you sent it to your supervisor for review e.g. Ch1_before comments_20140426. When your supervisor sends back a chapter full of comments and edits, save that version exactly the way it is, also with a date and your supervisor’s initials at the end of the file name, e.g. Ch1_AEM_20140513. You can then start working in the document with your supervisor’s comments, and save this version with your initials following your supervisor’s e.g. Ch1_AEM_MCW_20140530. On a side note, don’t be tempted to “accept all changes” as Microsoft Word allows you to do – you won’t learn anything about scientific writing that way.  

Papers from journals

There are a few options (see here) when it comes to reference managers. I initially chose Mendeley simply because it is free, but I am really enjoying it as a “one stop shop” for all my literature needs. You can import a PDF directly from the internet using the web plugin, and then read, highlight and annotate the paper itself in the built-in Mendeley PDF viwer. While initially the PDF remains wherever you saved it and Mendeley saves a shortcut, the Mendeley file organiser tool (under preferences) can actually locate all the papers (scattered around your downloads folder and elsewhere) and reorganise them into a central folder wherever you want. It will even rename the PDF’s however you prefer, with author_year_keywords_journal being my favoured order. This way, if you clear out your downloads folder or delete the PDF’s that are clogging up your desktop screen, you don’t suddenly lose your meticulously highlighted papers. You only have to do this once – after the initial organisation Mendeley will automatically save a perfectly named copy of any file you import into this very aesthetically pleasing folder. Try to make a habit of downloading all your papers via your reference manager – it might seem like a schlep to wait the extra minute while Mendeley processes the PDF and to check that the author, year etc. are all correct, but you’ll be much happier later when you can insert the citations easily into your dissertation, without having to sift through hundreds of papers in one batch.

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