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Library Guides

Managing your personal digital archive: Arrangement: organising your stuff

This guide will provide an introduction to personal digital preservation: making sure the digital material that you care about is safe and accessible into the future.

Organising your stuff

Once you've reviewed your stuff and decided what to keep, the next thing to do is to organise it. In archives we call this process arrangement. As these are your records you are free to decide on any system of arrangement that works for you. But by keeping work that relates to particular projects or themes together you can make it easier to organise and maintain your archive. You might also want to think about a naming convention for files and folders that helps you keep track of things. The more you are able to organise things when you create them, the easier it will be to maintain your archive.

Actions!

'To do' icon

Review the points below, then:

  • Set up a folder on your computer to contain your archive. We'll discuss this more in the section on Storing and Maintaining your archive but for now just choose somewhere convenient on your computer.
  • Copy everything you want to keep into your archive folder. 
  • Review the folder and filenames within your archive. Consider renaming things to make it clear what everything is.
  • If you need to, create folders for keeping related material together. Move your files into the relevant folders.
  • For complicated sets of files, think about making a note of what they are and how they are organised and putting it in the folder with them.

Copying and moving files

Files are at their most vulnerable to corruption when being copied or moved. However, it is likely that you will need to do this to arrange your files. You can reduce the risks by following these steps:

  • Rather than cutting and pasting or moving files, it's better to copy them to their new location and only delete the originals when you are happy they have copied successfully. If you have enough space you can keep the files in their original location too.
  • Once you have copied files to a new location, do a quick spot check. Open a few of the files to make sure they have copied over ok. Try to pick a few different file types for your spot check.
  • If you are copying large quantities of data, consider downloading a specialist copying application such as TeraCopy. TeraCopy can be set up to verify any files it copies. 

Metadata

Most digital files will include some metadata: data within the file that helps to describe it. A common example is a date field, this is how your computer is able to sort files by date. Other metadata could be the duration of an audio track or the location a photograph was taken. Metadata like this can be a really helpful way of looking at your files, however you shouldn't rely on it too much. Metadata that is embedded in a file can be quite fragile.

For example, editing or even moving files can overwrite some of the metadata contained within them and files that have been uploaded to social media will often have had the metadata stripped out. So if there is information that you want to ensure is kept with your files, you could create short text file for each set of files describing what they are, when they were created and why. You could also include some basic information in the file and folder names within your archive.

Folder structure and naming

Review your existing folder structure and names. If necessary create new folders or rename existing ones so they are clear. Some key points to consider are:

  • It's important not to make your structure too complicated, try to come up with something simple and easy to follow. 
  • Think about what belongs together and group items in folders that have clear, meaningful names.
  • If you have a lot of folders consider creating a hierarchical structure. For example you could have a top level with different folders for university work, financial documents, personal things, and art or music projects. In the university work folder you could then have folders for each module you are studying, and within them folders for particular projects and so on.
  • Try to separate out final and working documents, either with filenames (for example by putting 'draft' or 'final' at the end) or having different folders for drafts and final work. 
  • Similarly, if you have different versions of a file, make it clear in the filename by putting a 'V' followed by a number at the end (for example HistoryDissertationV005.docx).
  • If metadata such as the date an image was created is important to you, consider adding it to the beginning of the filename, using the format YYYY-MM-DD.
  • If you decide to rename a lot of files, you might want to consider bulk renaming. Mac users can do this directly using the Finder. Windows users can download software such as Bulk Rename Utility which is free for non-commercial use. However, bulk renaming can easily go wrong so approach it cautiously and make sure you have a backup before you start.

For a more detailed look at this subject, the University Research Office have put together some excellent guidance on organising research data files. Although it's aimed at researchers, it can easily be applied to your personal digital archive.