6. File naming and formats

File naming

Do you know the best way to name a file?

Naming files on your computer in a logical and understandable way is a good practice to get into. How you name and organise your files is completely personal, but you can save yourself a lot of time by getting into the habit of file naming using descriptive names that give context.

Video icon Project structure by Danielle Navarro (YouTube, 8m30s) – Part 1 of a playlist on project structure gives a good overview of what to consider when naming your files:

There is also a slide version of Project structure.

Key points for file naming

You may be required to name files in a specific format for assignments, work or groups. For instance, in a group, you might need to add your initials so that it is easy to determine who created or edited that file.

The most important point is to be consistent! Other recommendations:

  • Use an underscore character (_) instead of a space. Spaces can cause issues, including when uploading files.
  • Use letters, numbers, hyphens and underscores only. Avoid special characters.
  • Use a hyphen to separate different words that are part of the same “chunk”.
  • Use an underscore to separate different “chunks”.
  • Add the date at the start of the filename in the format of YYYY-MM-DD. For example, 2018-09-14_LAWS1700_ reading-1.pdf. This file was saved or created on the 14th of September 2018.

If you are making edits on a document and wish to keep a record of the drafts, you should name the different drafts as ‘versions’ by appending the filename with “v1, v2, etc”. This ensures that if a file corrupts or need to a previous version you can access this easily.

Examples of bad file names

  • Essay1.docx
  • essay2.docx
  • Doc1 – Copy (1).docx
  • presso.ppt
  • pic for assignment.jpg

Examples of good file names

  • 2018-09-14_LAWS1700_reading-1.pdf
  • LAWS1700_assignment-1_v1.docx
  • Essay1_picture_BB.jpg
  • EDUC1130_assignment_2.xlsx

File names can get long if you are constantly noting which course they are associated with. You can use folders to organise files by courses.

Check your files

Open your files and see if you can easily identify what each file is without opening it. If you can’t, consider renaming those files. Additionally, try showing your files to a friend and see if they can guess what the file may contain.

File formats and saving

Most software saves files in a default file format. However, quite often you have the power to save in a different file format. Why would you want to do this? You may need to upload something in a required format or may need to open the file in another piece of software to work on it. For instance, Microsoft Word 2003 won’t open .docx files. Despite there being several updates to Word since 2003, you can still come across some computers that only have 2003 version of Office installed.

A lot of file types started out as proprietary and therefore only certain applications would support that file type. As technology has developed those restrictions have reduced, allowing a lot more choice in which application can be used. Most word processing software can open any text file type that you come across.

The main difference between file types is how or if they compress the data. Compression is the act of trying to reduce the size of a file. There are two types of compression – lossy and lossless.

question File extensions

There are a lot of file types. FileInfo is a website that keeps a record and definition of almost every file type.

Common file types

Text files

File extension File type name Used by
.doc 97-2003 Word Document Microsoft Word
.docx Word Document 2006 and newer Microsoft Word
.odt Open Office Document Apache Open Office Writer
.txt Plain Text File All word processing applications
.pages Pages Document Apple Pages

Image files

File extension File type name Used for
.jpg Joint Photographic Experts Group Lossy compression of digital images. JPEG compression can be adjusted towards smaller file size or better image quality
.gif Graphics Interchange Format Simpler digital images that do not require large colour palletes, such as logos. GIF supports 256 colours. It is mostly used for creating animated digital images.
.png Portable Network Graphics Lossless compression of digital images. PNG is a raster graphics file format, which means it does not lose quality, or cause pixelation, when the image size is increased or decreased.

Audio files

File extension File type name Used for
.mp3 This is the third audio format of the Moving Picture Experts Group-1 (MPEG-1) standard (formally MPEG-1 Audio Layer III & MPEG-2 Audio Layer III) Lossy data compression of digital audio. MP3 compression reduces components of a sound file that are beyond the hearing capabilities of humans.
.wav Waveform Audio File Format Uncompressed digital audio. WAV files can be compressed but are commonly used for uncompressed audio to store maximum audio quality.
.wma Windows Media Audio Lossless data compression of digital audio. WMA compresses digital audio files without loss of quality.
.flac Free Lossless Audio Codec Lossless data compression of digital audio. FLAC is an open format that can compress to 50-70% of the original file size.

Video files

File extension File type name Used for
.mp4 MPEG-4 Storing digital video and audio. It can also store subtitles and still images, as well as stream content from online.
.avi Audio Video Interleave Storing digital video and audio. Created by Microsoft, it can also store subtitles and still images, as well as stream content from online.


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