Day: April 26, 2013

Clearing the Clutter: A few tips on keeping your computer files organized

Hello, my name is Kristen Dunkinson. I have been a member of the LINGUIST List team since July 2011.  During my first semester, I was assigned to  work with the publicity team.  After several attempts to locate key documents for review, we realized that we had a problem: no one knew where all of the documents were.  I think we all know the feeling of searching for a document among the hundreds or thousands of files on our computer, only to come up empty-handed.  This seemed like a perfect task for… well… me!  I love creating organizational systems and finding new ways to make things easier or more accessible. So I began the project by creating a good system for organizing the files, and then came up with a file naming convention.  Knowing how helpful this might be to others, I have a written up a few tips on creating a organizational system for yourself.  I hope you find them useful.

Tip 1: Take a few minutes to think of what types of files you save and what types of data are in them. It might be helpful to pull out a piece of paper and jot down a few notes. Is that a personal file or an academic file? Is that PDF a publication that you want to read or is it a source for a research paper? Is that a current bill, or an old bank statement that needs to be archived? Try to break it down to a level that you feel comfortable with but not overwhelmed.

The next step is to begin a completely new set of folders. For example: I have a folder with my name, and then inside it I have a folder called ‘Personal’ and a folder called ‘Academic.’ In the personal folder I store bills, copies of receipts, and information that I don’t want to lose. I then created folders for those documents such as Crafts & Hobbies, Financial & Household, etc. The academic folder holds a subfolder named after each school I have attended, and then inside each individual school there are things like Semester or Financial Aid. Once you have created a folder system that works for you, make sure that everything has a place and that you consistently put your files where they belong.

Tip 2: Another good habit in the world of file organization is having a helpful file naming convention. If you have folders full of Word documents named ‘research paper 1’ and ‘research paper 2,’ you might never find what you are looking for in a search. I like to follow this simple template: DESCRIPTION_DATE. For example, if I am writing a paper about the politeness strategies of males in Sweden, I might name my file: SwedishPoliteness_01192012.doc. If I am working on a document with several changes I might also add edit_INITIALS or version#_INITIALS. To develop a naming convention for yourself, think about the information in the file that is pertinent to you.

Tip 3: Have you ever edited a document and then saved it, only to later find that you don’t like those changes as much as you thought? Then you realize that you saved over the original document already. This has happened to me a few times, and it is always very frustrating. There is a simple solution to this common problem: whenever I open a document to edit it, I create a fresh save. I copy the current name of the document and add a version number or add ‘edit’ at the end of the file name, then of course I navigate to the proper location to save. Not only will this keep you from saving over your files, but it will keep all of your versions of the same paper organized. I find that doing this immediately upon opening the file is the best idea; that way you avoid an accidental CTRL+S while you are editing.

Well, those are a few easy tips to get you on your way to a more organized computer with a set of files that is useful to you, instead of a file system that causes a panic attack every time you turn on your computer. If you have any question, suggestions or issues you would like some advice on tackling, please feel free to contact me at kristen(at)