It’s very common in technical writing and indeed documentation collaboration in general, to pass Word documents back and forth between multiple authors, reviewers, and editors. This occurs because Word’s monolithic binary format prevents the possibility of concurrent editing, and so it’s common practice for authors working on the same file to create new versions of the file with their changes tracked. However, when a revision control system is not available to store and track these files, a file naming convention is typically used to identify versions and edits. In this short article we’ll look at a convention that we’ve used successfully on a number of technical writing projects.
During collaboration there are a number of things that need to be tracked including the author’s name, the date, and the revision. And since multiple revisions can be created by multiple authors over the course of a day, the revision number becomes particularly important.
Taking these into account then, a good file naming convention that we’ve used takes the following form:
document name + four-digit revision number + initials + date (month and day are usually sufficient)
Including all of this information in the filename is best done using underscore characters which helps to improve the readability of the filename. For example: MyUserManual_R0001_DF_Jun20.doc.
This filename convention captures all of the information necessary to record the exact version/edit of the document. We’ve found that a four-digit revision number prefixed with “R” provides a sufficient amounts of numbers for most projects, while including all four digits, even if most are zeros, makes it easy to compare numbers when viewing a list of files. Also, placing the four-digit number before other information will force most file browsers to sort the file names by the revision number embedded in the filename.
The initials serve to quickly identify the author while keeping the character count to a minimum, followed by the month and day. Unless your project is spanning multiple years, we’ve found that the month and day are sufficient for most projects. We also recommend abbreviating the month to reduce the filename length.
In some cases it may be desirable to add additional information indicating a key milestone such as “final” (e.g. MyUserManual_R0001_DF_Jun20_Final.doc). Note that adding information is fine for milestones, but we recommended avoiding it for less important indicators such as new drafts; the revision, author, and date should be sufficient to imply that it as a new draft.
So, if you’re passing documents back and forth and aren’t using a revision control system, be sure to adopt a robust file naming convention like the one described above. Just be sure that all of the authors are aware of the convention and that they stick to it throughout the project. In the end you should have the complete history of the file available in a nicely sorted list of filenames.