Avoid File Version Hell with Useful File Names


I consider myself pretty organized, but sometimes even the most well-planned filing systems go awry when you’re flying by the seat of your pants.

Even if you know where everything is, what if you have 10 versions of the same document? It’s easy to get confused, especially when you’re collaborating with other people.

Naming your files wisely can make your life a bit easier, and even make the search for that particular photo edit, report draft, or print-ready document a little less maddening.

Here are some file naming tips that I find useful. It’s a bit of extra work now that could save you a world of pain later on.

Trust me

I know you think you’ve got everything under control with your “version1,” “version2” system, but trust me on this one.

When you’re at version 7.3 and there’s a version for print, a version for web, an English and French version of each, and another version of all of those versions where we changed the word “and” to “or” in the third paragraph, you will thank me.

Use basic characters


Cute emoticon. Terrible file name choice.

If it’s not a letter, number, or dash, please don’t use it. Remove periods, commas, apostrophes, exclamation marks, and SPACES from your file names.

Some programs will either get confused, or throw in a bunch of junk characters to replace the symbols with data it understands. This is messy and annoying for everyone.

If you must, use either “-” or “_” to separate words. Like this: File_Name.jpg
Or better yet, just use capitals. Like this: FileName.jpg

Use descriptive file names

You should have a pretty good idea about what the file is before you open it, based on the file name.

Is it a photo of Susan? Call it Susan.jpg
Is it a photo of Susan smiling? How about SusanSmiling.jpg
Is it a photo of Susan smiling while she’s at the park? SusanSmilingPark.jpg will do.


Susan. Smiling. In the park! (Source)

But why not just create a folder called “Susan” and throw all of my photos of Susan in there? Then I can just call them Smiling.jpg and SmilingPark.jpg without putting Susan’s name on every one, right?

True, and you should definitely have a Susan folder, but once one of the files is out of context the name is going to be useless again. When you attach that file to an email and send it to someone else, the folder won’t be there to identify the subject as Susan.

Keep this in mind, especially when you’re collaborating on a project with others.

For example, if it’s a client project, keep the client name in the file name. Include the project name too. Like this: ABC-Company_ResearchReport.pdf

Is it a work in progress? Use ABC-Company_ResearchReport_DRAFT.pdf
Is it approved and ready for take off? Use ABC-Company_ResearchReport_FINAL.pdf

Are there translations? ABC-Company_ResearchReport_ENG.pdf and ABC-Company_ResearchReport_FR.pdf will help you find the document in English and French.

Include the date


Get in the habit of putting a date in the file name. Like this: FileName_Feb-25-2015.jpg

If you work on the file for more than one day, re-save it with the current date so when you go back you know to open the latest dated file for the most up-to-date version.

It’s also a good idea to include the date on the document itself. Right at the top by the title is a great place. If it’s a working document – especially if it’s a working document – include “UPDATED:” before the date.

Every time there’s an edit or change to the doc, change the date in the text and the file name to today’s date and save it as a new file. If you ever need to reference a previous version, you haven’t lost anything.

Try all of the above

So if you were to follow all of the advice above at the same time you’d end up with a file that looks something like this: ClientNamePrintAd_V7-3_ENG_Feb-25-2015_FINAL.jpg

I know, I know. It’s sooo long. I get that a lot.

In some situations this would be total overkill, but in some other situations it could be really handy.

Tuck away old versions

Congratulations! Version 8 of the English web document has just been approved and we don’t expect any more edits for at least a day or two…

To avoid confusion, for you and for anyone else looking for the right document, go into your messy file folder of document versions and create a new folder called “DRAFTS”.

In fact, why not add a message for your coworkers into the folder name like “DRAFTS – DO NOT LOOK SO SCARY OMG.”

Select all of those old versions, from FINAL1 to FINAL7, and even that FINAL FINAL one you thought was the real deal. Move them all over into to the DRAFTS folder and forget they ever happened.

Whatever you do, don’t delete them. That will be the time when someone decides they liked Version 5 the best.

Now you can search for files

If you’ve done all of the above, and you misplace a file, the great thing is you have a better chance of digging it up with a quick search. Search the folder, or your whole drive if you’re really stumped, by the project name, date, or any of the other useful info you’ve included in your file names.

You’re going to be soooo happy when you type “Susan” into the search box, and all of those photos from your trip to the park with Susan pop up. There’s Susan.jpg, SusanSmiling.jpg, and SusanSmilingPark.jpg!

Good thing you don’t name all of your photos “Photo1” or “Photo2” because that would be a huge headache.

I hope you find my super nerdy advice helpful. My main goal is really to break the internet with impossibly long file names, but if I can help you get organized along the way then that’s super.


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