Thursday, July 10, 2014

Whip those documents into line!

A bit more of what I've learned going through the self-publication process...

Last time, I talked about some things to think about in devising a filing system. This was all conceptual - how to choose which documents to keep together and which to store separately. This post is a bit more practical - some tips to put those filing ideas into practice.


The most obvious and intuitive technique for organizing documents is to file them away into folders. This is the computer analog of filing papers in folders in drawers in a cabinet.

One of the big advantages computers have over physical filing cabinets is the ability to build complex folder structures, nested as deep as you want. This is great if your conceptual scheme involves groups within groups within groups because you can mirror your thinking in the folder structure.

...Use with care
As with most things, of course, you can have too much of a good thing. Something that drives me crazy is delving deep into many layers of folders, only to find one or two (or maybe zero!) documents at the end of each tortuous road. My personal preference is to only organize a given collection of documents into sub-folders when there are enough of them to make it worthwhile.

A useful rule of thumb I use is to aim to end up with somewhere between 5 and 20 documents and/or sub-folders in any given folder. As with all rules, this is only a guideline and there are always exceptions, but my thinking is that if you are consistently finding fewer than 5 or more than 20, then the chances are you are either over- or under-organizing.

What's in a name?

I guess I don't need to mention that it helps to make your file and folder names meaningful. But the next tips are all about ways to make use of names in an organized way to supplement the folder structure. These tips rely on the default behavior of folders to list items alphabetically, and are especially useful if you want to bring some additional organization without introducing a new level of folders.

Structured naming
When you choose a meaningful file name, you will usually find it contains a number of elements. If you have several related files in your folder, you will likely find they have some elements in common. Structured naming is simply making a conscious choice to apply some consistency to those elements and the order in which you use them.

This is best illustrated by a simple example. I have a place in my "Writing business" folder to keep the final production versions of files to be uploaded to various publishing outlets.

I have uploaded files to Amazon KDP, CreateSpace, and Smashwords, and each one needs separate files for cover and text. I also have some common files for the official blurb (used to describe the book in online stores) and versions of the cover at a resolution suitable for use on blogs and websites. In this case, you will see that I have five different versions of the cover alone, and it's essential to use the correct one in the correct place, but the naming convention makes it clear which is which.

Important features here are that:
  1. I am consistent in the order of words. I decided to put the usage first, then the type of file, so all the Amazon files are together etc.
  2. I am consistent in the words themselves. I chose to abbreviate CreateSpace and Smashwords to CS and SW, and I stick to it.
Neither of these decisions are important in themselves. What's important is consistency. And that is the essence of structured naming.

More on naming conventions in the next post...


  1. Hi Ian .. I sort of do that - but everything's a bit of a muddle ... but the ideas for your Amazon KDP, CS and SW make sense ..

    When I started the blog - categories didn't really come into it as each post usually has a few subjects .. such is life - I vaguely know what I've done and where the file is .. my brain functions - for now!

    Cheers and interesting post, helpful too - Hilary


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