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Data Management

This guide is to help you prepare a data management plan.

File formats & File naming

File Formats

What file formats should I use for my data? Am I using proprietary formats? How accessible will my data be if the software I'm using to work with it disappears?

To ensure the future use of your data, file formats should be

  • non-proprietary and based on open, documented standards
  • commonly used by your community
  • using standard character encoding (ASCII, UTF-8)
  • unencrypted
  • uncompressed


Examples of open formats

  • Containers: TAR, GZIP, ZIP
  • Databases: XML, CSV
  • Geospatial: SHP, DBF, GeoTIFF, NetCDF
  • Moving images: MOV, MPEG, AVI, MXF, WMV
  • Sounds: WAVE, AIFF, MP3, MXF
  • Statistics: ASCII, DTA, POR, SAS, SAV
  • Still images: TIFF, JPEG 2000, PDF, PNG, GIF, BMP
  • Tabular data: CSV
  • Text: XML, PDF/A, HTML, ASCII, UTF-8
  • Web archive: WARC

For more information on recommended file formats, go here: Recommended Formats Statement



File Naming

Adopt a naming convention and use it throughout a project (or throughout your career). Consider including a README.txt file that explains your naming convention and any codes or abbreviations you use. 

This readme.txt template provides detailed recommendations for how to describe and cite your data. readme.txt template

Rules to follow when naming directories and files

  • Avoid using special characters: \ / : * ? “ < > | [ ] & $ , these have meaning in software and operating systems and can cause trouble.
  • Do not use spaces. These are problematic for some operating systems.Use underscores (file_name), dashes (file-name), or camel case (FileName) instead.
  • Describe the contents of the file (in case the file is moved), but do not be overly long
  • Avoid generic names (like draft.doc; final2.xls) that can be hard to decipher and easily overwritten
  • Include dates (i.e. YYYYMMDD or YYYY-MM-DD) and times (i.e. hhmmss)
  • Reserve 3-letter file extensions for application-specific codes (e.g., .jpg, .mov, .tif)
  • Be consistent


If you need to rename many files, try a  file naming application such as:

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