Storing and naming reference files

This post originally written in February 2011 was updated in August 2011. The reader should also read the post on Revisiting Reference Files.

I name reference files in accordance with the bibliographic convention as follows:

Author Date Title @a (e.g. “Smith 2010 Analysis of energy security @a”)

where @a is the workflow marker used for automatic sorting of files as explained here.

Such naming has the following advantages:

  • It is intuitive so that I know what’s inside the file when I just see its name;
  • It is easier to search by file name;
  • It can be easily passed to other colleagues (e.g. by email) without renaming;
  • It is compatible with automatic renaming by such reference managers as Sente and Papers;
  • The workflow marker allows application of automatic rules by Hazel.

This naming applies to naming academic references. I name my own notes differently as will be explained in another post.

Storing reference files

When I started to store reference files (some 15 years ago), I created a directory in my Documents folder named “Materials and data”. This directory contained a large number of nested folders, for example “Impact Assessment/EIA/EU/“ where I would save all reference files. This system worked for at least a decade without much problems. Recently it started to falter. First, it is increasingly clear that one and the same reference file can relate to more than one areas: e.g. “energy”, “transport” and “China”. Secondly, it takes a lot of time to find the necessary folder to store.

Various systems of tagging and automatic workflows for storage have resulted in another system which I use now. Files are stored in Documents/Filed Documents/YYYY/M/D where YYYY is the year the file is added, M – the month and D – the day of the month. E.g. 2010/12/31.

Academic Articles (i.e. files handled by such reference managers as Papers or Sente) are stored a distinct location:  Documents/Filed Documents/Papers/Author/ where “Author” is first Author’s last name. This is because Papers and Sente allow to automatically file and rename such files. Being stored in this distinct location allows me to find all academic files more quickly.

About Aleh Cherp

Aleh Cherp is a professor at Central European University and Lund University. He researchers energy and environment and coordinates MESPOM, a Masters course operated by six Universities.
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5 Responses to Storing and naming reference files

  1. Pingback: Workflow for reference files other than academic articles | Academic workflows

  2. Pingback: Revisiting reference files | Academic workflows on Mac

  3. Pingback: Managing project files and good old file folders | Academic workflows on Mac

  4. Mark Elliot says:

    I really like the site. It’s full of great tips and holistic thinking about tools and processes. I’ve turned on to Default Folder X, but other apps like Tags will have to wait for an upgrade.
    I’m curious why you would stick with an elaborate, hierarchical folder system of whatever kind (date, topic, etc.) when your tags should allow you flat file storage – all in the same folder. Isn’t that the point of tags?
    The approach I’ve taken with Endnote is to keep all my reference papers (named properly like yours, author(s), date, title) in one folder with links from Endnote. But with openmeta tags, it’s even better: no need to create those links in endnote.
    I’ll be curious if you’ve developed a restricted tag library, or if it’s ad-hoc….


    • Aleh Cherp says:

      In many respects you’re right: keeping everything in one folder would work as well. I guess I am a bit old-fashioned and sometimes want to be able to drill down to a particular author through their name. This also respects people who connect through Dropbox or non-Mac platforms without such good search engines. I am not sure what is a restricted tag library. By the way, Papers 2.0 may force me to finally move away from Sente and integrate my bibliographic reference software and file management.


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