Reducing Search Time With File & Folder Nomenclature Guidelines

It is often the little decisions made 100’s of times a day that can create the largest problems in regards to time and money efficiency. One of those decisions, that seems small enough not to matter, is how to name files and folders.

These decisions are made on the fly, by several different people with various priorities and perspectives. Compounding the issue is that various individuals have different levels of foresight and process mindsets. Without purposefully thinking through some of the little things, they can compound and create search and retrieval nightmares.

Purposely setting file and folder names can save an enormous amount of time.

Nomenclature Guidelines

Setting a Nomenclature policy or guideline can save countless hours a week in search, organization, and even lower coordination and collaboration costs. Questions such as:

  • Where did you put this file?
  • What is the name?
  • I can’t find the latest quote?
  • I went to help you with the project but couldn’t find where the files were? no longer take up valuable time and delay important work.

File Structure Shape

The first step is to think about how you want your file structure to be “shaped”.

  1. Do you want a flat structure with few folders and a lot of files per folder?
  2. Do you want a deep structure with many directories to force organization?

With search much better than it used to be, I often tend towards a flat structure. You can get to files faster (without clicking through several folders), and it is less strain on the processing side for the computer to index and keep the structure up to date.

Often, a deep structure is used to bypass the importance of naming files and folders and make it not important; but this is an expensive decision in both time and computer power. However, without naming properly, a flat structure can be a disaster. I am sure you have those folders with 100s of files all randomly named, and no hint as to what is in them. A nomenclature allows you to use a flat structure without this problem. Instead, sorting can be used.

Understand Search Intent

Once you decide which structure you want, you need to consider how you will later look for information in that folder. Some examples:

  • If a folder of purchase orders, you will probably look for them by date, vendor, or PO number.
  • If a folder of quotes, you will mostly look by RFQ number, customer, project name, or date.
  • If a folder of prints, you might look for them by part number, revision, or type.

Understanding how data is to be searched later is key in setting a nomenclature that helps you rather than creates problems later.

Prioritize Search Factors

After understanding the what of the search, you must consider which of those factors are important enough to be in the name of the file or folder, and in what order they should be put for proper sorting.

For example, let’s say all quotes are kept in a quote folder. All of the docs related to a quote go in a specific folder placed inside the quote folder.

When searching for quotes, we are usually looking for a quote for a specific customer. Beyond that, we would like to see them in chronological order, to quickly find the last quote to reference for an order. We might also not want to have to open the files to see which quote project it is.

In this case, we would create a new folder for each quote and name it something like this:

  1. Customer Name
  2. Date
  3. Project Name

Which would come out something like: Customer XYZ 10-08-2019 Part Quote

Semantics Matter

The last piece is to think about how things will look and how they will sort.

If everyone types in the customer name, you will be shocked at how many different types of names you will get for the same customer. From all caps to no caps, punctuated names, misspellings, and other variations. You will end up with a folder that looks messy with various customer quotes starting:

  • Customer XYZ
  • XYZ
  • Customer xyz Inc. The different lengths and caps will make it hard to quickly scan and find a folder or file.

This also means when you sort, you won’t get all customer quotes together in the right order to quickly scan (XYZ will be in a different location than Customer XYZ). I often advise an all-cap, 3 digit name assignment. This keeps it the same length and caps for everyone.

The same goes for the date. How I have written it above will sort all October quotes for XYZ, regardless of the year. So properly putting the date in descending order can solve this.


This will sort in the proper date order.

What we end up with is proper folder naming convention that will keep our quote folder flat (rather than having quote folders, then customer folders in that, then a folder for each month inside of each customer folder), and easily searchable by thinking through sorting.

XYZ 20191008 Part Quote

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