Organizing data folders with #5sdata -method

To improve your work efficiency, it is good to have a clear data management strategy and data files well organized. On this page we have gathered tips on how to organize files based on a 5S-method.

5S method is a five-step protocol for workplace organization that has been originally developed in Japan. The method is a lean tool, which aims to improve work efficiency and standardize protocols that will help to sustain systematic organization. Here, we have adopted the method for organizing data.

The 5S stand for:

  1. Sort 
  2. Set in order 
  3. Shine 
  4. Standardize 
  5. Sustain 


1. Sort

This phase should reduce time loss looking for an item by reducing the number of items. Also, the amount of available space increases. Follow the next steps:

  • Check all items in a directory (folder) and evaluate whether or not their presence is useful or necessary.
  • Remove unnecessary files and directories as soon as possible. Place those that cannot be removed immediately in a 'red tag area' so that they are easy to remove later on. 
  • Keep the working directories clear of files except for those that are in use to production.

2. Set in order

Idea of this phase is to make the workflow smooth and easy. First, create a directory structure to suit your needs. For example if you work with sensitive data, a clear folder system helps also in access control.

Second, use clear and meaningful file naming conventions, both for folders and files, to reduce time in finding particular files. 

Creating a directory structure

When planning a hierarchical directory structure, take in consideration:

  • What sort of data will you have?
  • Are there many subprojects which need their own folders?
  • How should different raw data, cleaned data, methods, documentation, manuscripts or presentations be organized?
  • Balance between shallow and deep folder hierarchy to keep files findable.
    • Too deep needs many clicks to get to the right file.
    • Too shallow can end up having too many files in one folder.
  • Avoid overlapping categories and make meaningful folder names.

Two examples of a folder structure:



File naming tips to keep in mind:

  1. Balance with the amount of elements in the name: too few making it too general vs. too many hinder understandability.
  2. Use meaningful abbreviations: data, raw, ms (for manuscript), code etc.
  3. Order the elements from general to specific.
  4. Use the underscore (_) as element delimiter and hyphen (-) or capitalizer to delimit words within an element. Don’t use special characters: & , * % # ; * ( ) ! @$ ^ ~ ‘ { } [ ] ? < >.
  5. Time should be ordered: year, month, day (YYYYMMDD or YYYY-MM-DD).
  6. For version control use the letter V followed minimum by two digits (V06), and extend it if needed for minor changes (V06-02). Remember the leading zeros to make sure files sort correctly.
  7. Write a readme-file about the naming system and explain abbreviations (example below).
  8. Make your research group & collaborators use the file naming system.

Example: Honeybee project 1, experiment 3, manuscript, 14.10.2019, version 2 could be named the following: HB1_exp3_ms_14102019_v02

3. Shine

Idea of this phase is to prevent deterioration and keep directories easy to work in. If you use standard and documented method, when in place, anyone not familiar to the environment can easily navigate in the directory, find files, and detected problems. 

  • Be proactive and maintain the new organization you have created. 
  • Make managing data in an organized way part of your weekly routines.

4. Standardize

Idea of this phase is to stablish procedures and schedules to ensure the repetition of the first three ‘S’ practices.

  • Create standards and practices that suit your project needs; folder structure, file naming conventions, tags, or other standards in use.
  • Write down (document) the best practices & rules everyone should follow. 
  • Discuss the practices and rules with your group, and agree that keeping data files organized is everyones responsibility.

5. Sustain

Idea of this phase is to sustain the developed processes by self-discipline and habits. 

  • Sustain the new practices and achieved organization.
  • Organize training sessions with your group regarding your data management practices, especially when new people join the group.
  • Implement improvements and changes to your protocol, if needed.