Using consistent, straight forward, and well thought out file names will help you and others make sense of your files.
Files names are the fastest way to identify what is inside a file and how it differs from similar files. You should name your files based on important elements of your project such as:
You can combine elements as needed in to create a file naming convention that you can deploy during the entire project. An explanation of what each element of the file name means should be documented. One easy way to do this is to create a readme text file in the project's top folder.
Consider how you want to track the files (i.e. chronologically, by location, by sample, etc.). This is the element that should be at the beginning of your file name as it will effect how the computer sorts and displays files.
The example below shows how files sort differently depending on which name element is used first. If the researcher needed to track the project by dates then the "By date" method would work better than the "By plot" method.
|By date||By plot|
Don't reinvent the wheel. Use existing standards whenever possible! This will make it easier for others to understand the file names.
For example, there is a standard that defines how dates and times should be recorded: ISO 8601. Using this standard eliminates common points of confusion such as the difference between US and European dates which swap the order of day and month.
Just because you can use something doesn't mean you should. There are two reasons to avoid special characters, punctuation marks, and symbols in filenames:
Periods (.) should only be used to separate the file name from the file extension. Do not use periods to separate different elements of a file name, use a dash (-) or an underscore (_) instead.
The same rule applies for multiple periods (i.e. .. and ...). Don't do it!
A file naming best practice is to avoid spaces in file names. Spaces are not supported by all operating systems or by command line applications. A space in a filename can cause errors when loading a file or when transferring files between computers. Common replacements for spaces in a filenames are dashes (-) or underscores (_). Alternatively you can also use a technique called camelCase which uses letter case to separate name elements. However, if you need to search for a file by name, or by part of it's name, then spaces are more likely to work than dashes, underscores, and camelCase.
Joseph Scott's "Things That Shouldn’t Be in File Names for $1,000 Alex." is a good summary of file naming practices to avoid.