Digital Folder systems

digital folder systems

1. Introduction

How many times have you saved a file to the desktop or My Documents folder without considering how you will find it later?  You have probably thought each time that you really should put the file in a specific location but just didn’t have time to deal with it at that moment in time.  We all do it from time to time, even though we know that best practise dictates that we shouldn’t.  Is there a way around this?  Probably not, but we can at least think a bit more about folder structure when we first embark upon a research project or as a means to sort out a messy folder and file system part way through that research. 

NOTE: In the latter instance it is never too late to start over.  If you are faced with a messy, disorganised folder and file system all you need to do is create a new ‘alternative’ system and start moving files over (renaming where necessary) to the new system – probably as you work.  For a time you will need to operate both files systems side-by-side but you can choose a cut-off date for the old system or ‘archive’ the old one when you are sure that the files you have moved over are the ones that you actually need.  This can sometimes be a good way to side-line unnecessary or redundant files.  Never entirely delete the old system unless you are certain that everything is moved over.  If nothing else save the old version onto a backup disk (either an external hard drive or DVD) just in case you need it in the future.

When creating folders you will need to consider the different types of files that you will be storing as well as the different categories and sub-categories that you might need. For instance, here is Emmanuel Saboro talking about how he organises his oral history video files.

Let’s begin with a quick exercise that demonstrates the importance of a good file system.


Download the zip file called Within it you will find two different folder systems: Folder Version A and Folder Version B. Look through each of these to find the file called Transcript 007 – London 1590. The file belongs to a collection of transcripts derived from research in the archives. Do not use the search option (that would be cheating) instead try clicking through the folders as if you were a researcher using another researchers work. Consider how easy it is to find the file in each system and then think to your own folder systems – how easy would it be for you or someone else in five years to navigate through the system to find a file?