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Knowledge management for research groups

Guidelines on how to name and share files and coordinate research projects.

Shared drives and collaboration spaces

Even in a simple collaboration between two colleagues, it can be useful to maintain a shared file storage space rather than rely on each collaborator to maintain careful version control. Within the institution this can be achieved by setting up shared drives on University servers.

In the case of larger projects, it may be necessary to have different sections of the work shared between different team members, rather than having one common shared space. This can be achieved with file-sharing systems such as Dropbox and One Drive. 

File naming conventions

Even in the context of individual projects, it is good practice when saving a files and creating folder structures to consider what makes that file or folder unique in its intended environment. 

For example, when naming a file for a publication to be submitted to a journal, do not use the name of the journal as the file name. This may be unique in your filing system but will not be unique in the recipient’s system. You could use your own name, but that would not be unique in your own filing system. If the recipient does not provide any guidance, one solution would be to use your name plus the journal’s name, or the title of your article. 

If dates are used as identifying features in file names, especially for sorting, they should be entered in the order YYYYMMDD

If files are to be shared, a file naming standard should be established at the beginning of the project. Stanford University Library provides guidance on best practice for file naming in data management. These guidelines can apply to any kind of shared file environment.

Version control

Careful version control is essential when it is important to keep a record of updates made to a document. For example, a journal editor might wish to keep the author’s original version as submitted, plus an author’s revision after peer review, the copyedited and/or formatted versions sent to the author for their final check, and the final version ready for publication.

Stanford University Library offers simple suggestions for naming different versions of files.

It is preferable to plan logical file names at the start of a project. However, if your file names do not reflect the version of each document clearly, it is still possible to sort a list of files by date and time updated, which can be helpful in establishing this information after the fact. In Windows, view your file list by Details and click on Date Modified to sort chronologically.

Another way that versions can be stored is by using nested folders. For example, in the journal situation above, all contributions for a particular issue might be saved to a folder for that issue, with the formatted versions saved into a folder within that folder (e.g. titled ‘Formatted’) and the versions ready for publication in a folder named ‘Ready’ within the Formatted folder. This system can be useful if there is an output (such as a journal issue, or research outcome) which will draw only on the final versions, as the contents of the folder can be consulted, copied or uploaded in one batch. 

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