As Easy as Putting on a Helmet: A Few Simple Questions Can Help You Create a File Renaming Plan

HelmetTo rename or not to rename ….that is the question! Okay, so I’m being a bit dramatic, but renaming existing files can create unexpected trouble later on. I learned this the hard way during a most inconvenient time—tax time.

Each February, I download the newest version of my preferred tax software, which then imports the old tax records stored on my computer. The program uses these old files to auto-fill information that doesn’t change from year-to-year, such as social security and bank routing numbers, thereby reducing the chance of introducing mistakes. Having the old files also allows the program to preload questions and forms based on prior needs, which reduces the overall hassle.

Well, several years ago, I decided to rename all of my existing files and folders. My snazzy new protocol allowed me to easily distinguish between personal files and work files. So, when tax time rolled around a few months later, I downloaded the tax software and waiting unconcerned while it attempted to locate the old files—but this nonchalance turned to panic when the software repeatedly told me that the old files no longer existed.

For a brief moment I thought I had lost all of my old tax records. Now, I’m a belt-and-suspenders kind of gal, so of course I keep backups. But still, how could I just lose something that important? Then I remembered that I had renamed the files; however, the software was searching for them under the old names.

While my situation was easily corrected because I was only dealing with a few files stored in two different locations (my computer and an external storage device), things can get mighty hairy if you’re handling  dozens or even hundreds of renamed files stored in multiple locations. So, before changing any file names, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are the files stored in more than one location? If so, where?
  2. Are the files accessed by more than one user/client? If so, who?
  3. Do software programs automatically import these files? If so, which programs?
  4. Do websites import these files, either automatically or by user request? If so, which sites?

You can then use the answers to these questions as a springboard for creating a renaming plan before actually making any changes. After all, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally wearing a belt, suspenders—and a helmet.

If you missed my prior discussions on file naming, hop on over to Jumpstart the New Year with a File Naming Protocol and The Mechanics of File Naming: No Elbow Grease Necessary.


Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business documents, copywriting, marketing material, blogs, web copy, and instructional content.

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