What to call a manuscript file – begin with your own last name

Lab1.doc, Laboratory1.pdf, FirstLab.docx, you get the idea. Can you imagine how many times I get files with names like that? There are close cousins like myexperiment, latestdraft, revisedpaper, or more specifically for our organism, Dictycheating, Dicty.mix.experiments, Dictygenomes, and the like. Please make it easier for me. After all, I read hundreds of drafts of papers a year from my own lab group and classes, and review for others another hundred or so.

What do I want? Simply that you begin the name of any file you send me with your last name. After that you can put anything else you like. Why do I want this? It is because I sort projects according to who sends them to me. I have folders named for students and collaborators, and I put what you send me in there. But first they go into a folder called Read This!, which helps me see what I have to do. Right now it has 5 different papers in it, from five current and former lab members, currently residing in the US, Finland, and Italy.

When I return the file to you, I will put my initials at the very beginning, so you will know this is the draft of the paper that I read. But chop those off when you send it back to me, so I know it’s something new.

Others may have different filing systems, or preferences. But a good start is to begin the name of any file you send anybody with your last name. Think of the perspective of the reader, always, even when you are simply naming your files. We will thank you, and may even be less likely to lose track of your paper!

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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2 Responses to What to call a manuscript file – begin with your own last name

  1. evobytes says:

    I would just add that sometimes it is also nice to have a dating system for your files, particularly when you know you’ll be going through multiple drafts. These do not have to be included in the file name that you send to your reviewer, but as a reviewer I usually initial and date my edits, especially when there has been a lot of back and forth with someone. On my end, if I do not receive a file back with the date already in the file name, I add the date to it so that I know when I received it. I then sort my files chronologically in the folder.

    In general, I think that using informative file names is a very good habit to get into, whether you are sending a file to your PI, a classmate, or even a friend. That little extra effort certainly helps your reader know what a file contains, but it also makes it less confusing for me when I receive comments or assignments back!

  2. I was looking through job applicants last year and I have to say, the same rules should apply here. I’m really not going to take a serious look at an application entitled “generic_resume.doc”.

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