naming multiple versions of files

If you’ve ever worked on a large document, or worked on a document for a long time, you will have encountered the challenge of keeping a number of copies of the same file on a computer (or multiple computers).

There are a number of ways to do this, but haphazardly saving files to a number of different places (the desktop, the USB thumb drive, the default folder that’s opened up in your application) is a recipe for frustration.

There are programs that are actually devoted to version control of documents, like Subversion, but if you’ve never heard of them, you’re not likely to be able to adapt to them overnight. If you want a program that will keep track of every change you make to a document, or a whole folder structure, “version control” software is the way to go.

For novice users, though, simply having a good file naming convention will save you some of the hassles involved in managing multiple documents.

First, never call a document “final” unless you’re never going to edit it again (a signed contract, a talk that you’ve already given): you’re just asking for trouble, and end up working with “final.doc”, “final2.doc” and the like. Once this happens, the term “final” becomes more of a distraction than a help.

Next, choose one method of naming, and stick to it. This could be a version number at the end of the file (“1.doc”,”2.doc”, “7.doc”) – if you’re going to do this, make sure you use at least two digits for this suffix. Otherwise, when you go to sort them alphabetically, versions 1, 10, and 11 will be before versions 2, 3, 4 etc.

So: “01.doc”, “02.doc”, “03.doc” as suffixes is one option.

Another option is to use the date, in the form YYYY-MM-DD – “2010-01-18” (again, this will sort correctly when you view the files in alphabetical order). If you make multiple versions of a file, just add a letter of the alphabet after the day of the month.

It might be tempting to create a folder structure that has all the document information in it “Cafe Review Project” and then have a standard filename that you use for all your files – “draft01.doc”, “draft02.doc” and this can save you some time and effort. The downside is when you go to search your computer for a file, or when you are sending a file to someone else.

If you have given your file a descriptive name, you can tell what’s in the file without having to open it first.

So there are a few short ideas on how to name your files – was that useful?

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