Establishing a consistent naming convention for your files and folders may be the most important investment of time you can make before uploading those files to your virtual data room (VDR) workspace. A few minutes invested today will save you many hours down the road sorting, organizing and searching for files.

What’s in a name? A rose.jpg by any other name may still look pretty, but it will be a lot harder to find when you need it.

The Role of File Naming Conventions

File naming conventions are the rules your organization uses to give titles to all of your files and folders so that they can be organized, accessed and searched consistently. The best time to decide on a naming convention for your VDR is before you begin uploading files. 

If your company hasn’t specified any policies on naming files and folders, chances are they have become an assortment of different conventions, likely differing from one department to another. Even if this hasn’t posed a problem yet, it will quickly become an issue once people from those different departments start accessing files in the VDR. If you’re sharing files with clients or investors, a disorganized filing system will make their work more difficult when they’re looking for documents they need, as well as making your firm look unprofessional.

The Problem with Inconsistent File Names

Anyone who needs access to a file or a folder should be able to identify its contents simply by looking at the title. Suppose, for example, you want to share meeting notes you made with a client or investor and inside a “meeting notes” folder, she finds several dozen files with names like these:

  • Meeting-notes-2020.pdf
  • Jan 21st.docx
  • Steve & Jan.docx
  • Client presentation.pdf
  • ABC_Company_meeting.docx

Chances are, she will need to open a few files before finding the one she’s looking for. And with every minute she spends opening files, her uncertainty will grow as to whether or not the file she needs was even placed in this folder.

Four Benefits of Naming Conventions

There are four major benefits from using a consistent naming convention:

  1. Contents of a file or folder can be determined simply by looking at the name.
  2. Files can be visually scanned or sorted to quickly find the right one.
  3. Files can be searched for consistently. 
  4. Misplaced files or folders can be quickly identified.

A well-organized system might have a nested folder system organized in a client folder, a year folder and a meeting notes folder, and then the folders themselves might contain files with each file named with the date. Those meeting notes could be better organized according to this example:

ABC Company > 2021 > Meeting Notes > ABC-Meeting-01-21-2021.docx    

Naming that specific file with the company name and the word “meeting” is redundant for a reason, since it can be easily identified even if it’s been accidentally placed in the wrong folder. 

Why Using Spaces Is Still a Bad Idea

Using spaces in file names is certainly not a problem in a modern VDR. Only a few years ago, however, storage file systems on computers and servers couldn’t tolerate spaces in file names or folders. Even today, there are still programs and programming languages that treat a space as if it were the end of a character string, or that may replace the space with other characters. In HTML5, for example, spaces are usually replaced with “%20.”

While using spaces in folders is now quite common, files usually use an underscore ( _ ) or hyphen ( – ) instead of a space. Whatever you choose to use, use it consistently so that you can easily search files. This system is handy, because if you’re looking for a file, you only have to search for it once, instead of doing three searches — one with spaces, one with hyphens and one with underscores.

Making Files Easily Identifiable

As a general rule, file and folder names should be as short as possible so they can be easily scanned without readjusting the window size or having to click on the file. However, brevity in the name should not come at the expense of being able to identify the file. (Fortunately, Caplinked clients can easily view file names that are several dozen characters long without resizing the window.) 

How you select your naming convention will depend on your needs. Consider how you will later search for the file and talk to other stakeholders in your organization to find out what information they may need included in the name. Some information to consider using in your file names includes the following:

  • The contents of the file, such as “internal-memo-pay-policy.docx”
  • The author of the file, as in “internal-memo-pay-policy-Jan-Smith.docx”
  • The date the file was made, as in “internal-memo-pay-policy-01-27-2021.docx”
  • The version number of the file, as in “internal-memo-pay-policy-v02.docx”

Use any or all of these naming conventions as needed to make one document easily distinguishable from another, both for today and for your future needs. 

Dates and numbers should use the same format with all files and folders. Using a zero in front of a single-digit number and using four digits for years will make them easier to search. 

Organizing Your Folders and Subfolders

As with your file names, folder names should be concise, while including the essential information you will need to identify them. When determining your folder structure in a VDR, there are two aspects to consider. Not only do you need to consider which documents will be contained in the folder, but you also need to consider who will be given access to that folder. 

A marketing department, for example, may find it more convenient to make a folder for each year, with monthly subfolders, and then to put each project into its correct month. This structure, however, would be a nightmare for an accountant who wanted to give her clients access to their files over the past ten years. 

The accountant in this case would be much better off by first creating a folder for each client, with their taxes and other records organized inside by year. This way, she can give each client permission for only one folder, instead of for multiple subfolders spread through ten different main folders.

Verifying and Renaming Legacy Files 

If your firm has a collection of inconsistent file naming conventions, it’s better to change them on your computer or server before uploading them to the VDR so the files correspond to each other in both locations. 

The “Rename” option in Windows File Explorer gives you the ability to rename multiple files in a folder at once. Open the folder and Ctrl-click the files to be renamed, or press Ctrl-A to select all of them. Then click the “Rename” button under the “Home” tab, enter the new name and press “Enter.” Each file is automatically renamed with a number beside it, such as “Audit-Log-2021 (1),” “Audit-Log-2021 (2),” and so on. 

If you need to rename several hundred, or even a few thousand files, consider buying a file renaming utility. These give you the ability to rename groups of files at once, by setting rules for what characters should be replaced with, like replacing all spaces with hyphens, deleting unnecessary characters, or inserting dates into each file name. 

Moving Forward with Naming Conventions

Whichever file naming conventions you decide on, make sure they are documented and shared with everyone in your firm so they become a consistent habit. Grab a screenshot of how a folder structure should look so others can refer to it. Better yet, you may want to create a blank company folder structure template that staff can copy and paste into their own folders when it’s time to add new files. 

Of course, structure and naming conventions are just the beginning of a solid VDR workspace. Be certain to select a VDR provider who offers the latest tools in document security and collaboration, like integration with Microsoft Office, so when clients or partners do click on a file they can view its contents immediately. You can get started with Caplinked in just a few minutes without any cost or obligation, with a free trial

David Weedmark is a published author and e-commerce consultant. He is an experienced JavaScript developer and a former network security consultant.


University of Leicester – Naming Files and Folders 

Harvard University – File Naming Conventions

Windows Central – How to batch rename multiple files on Windows 10 

Windows Report – 8 best file rename software for Windows 10