Metadata for Internal File Management

Good metadata for internal file management will help you keep track of your files and the relationships between them. There are many types of metadata but with just two you can improve your organization dramatically.


Taxonomies map out the relationships between your files. In many cases the taxonomy can be the same as your folder structure. How you name them will depend on your organization’s content and needs but here is an example of a basic taxonomy with a few levels of hierarchy for an organization with a few different departments/initiatives:

  • Organization
    • Project Team
      • Project 1 Group
        • Project 1 files
      • Project 2 Group
        • Project 2 files
    • Finance Team
      • Project funds
        • Project 1 finance files
        • Project 2 finance files
Key tips for creating a taxonomy:
  • Choose your major categories/subcategories figure out how they relate to each other
  • Consistent naming – use standard names – focus on human readability
  • Choose a layout that works for you – geographic categories, grant-funded project categories, thematic categories
  • Decide on standard terms for common folder, file types, and file names
    • Files and folders will sort alphabetically or numerically by name
    • Choose elements that are mandatory in file names, and elements that are optional
    • Common elements to include are date, location, project, version number
    • Decide in advance how to note revised files (new date? version number?)
File naming best practices:

  • Files should be named consistently
  • File names should be short but descriptive
  • Avoid special characters or spaces in a file name
  • Use capitals and underscores instead of periods or spaces or slashes
  • Use date format ISO 8601: YYYYMMDD
  • Include a version number
  • Write down naming convention in data management plan

Choose a basic file name format recipe to put the most useful information, or the information you want your files to sort by, first:

Files will sort alphanumerically by name reading from left to right, so choose the first element of your filename accordingly

If you decide that your preferred file naming recipe is Topic_fileinfo_date, then a file naming example using that recipe would be:

If you want all your files to sort by date, the put the date first: 20201018_Metadata_Cheatsheet