Make sure finding documents is easy: Eight Best Tips
Keeping track of all your documents is hard. It was hard when our records were paper and kept in filing cabinets. It is just as hard now that our documents are digitized and stored in file or board management systems. Using the wrong document management system results in documents never being found again.
Step One: Establish a File Naming Convention
Even with advanced search capabilities, it is critical to create a file naming convention policy and then apply it consistently. No one wants to wait for a search process to churn through thousands of documents each time a specific file is needed.
Every file and board management system requires using consistent file naming conventions. If not, each user will apply their own convention. Before long no one will be able to find anything. DO NOT ALLOW this to happen.
There are many naming conventions that could be followed. The key to success is to decide on a convention, create a reference or policy document that clearly outlines the specifics and be rigorous and then be consistent in their use.
Use Descriptive Names
Start file names with a brief description. Be short, but add enough details so that every file is different and stands out. Start with the broadest or biggest concept first and then narrow or refine it.
Always make sure new documents are named correctly when adding them to BoardSpace. Don’t wait to correct a name later.
DO NOT use special characters such as /:”@#$
Underscore and Capitals
DO USE underscore_or Capitals.
Adding Versions makes Finding Easier.
Use a version number. Most documents get revised, so make it a habit to add v1 to the file name the first time the document is added unless absolutely certain that the document is final. That way the next version is v2 and so on. Once the document is a final document – add final to the end of the file name.
Adding an Author’s Name
Add the author’s last name, only if applicable. In most cases, it is not relevant for finding a document.
Adding a Date
Dates are important for many documents. If the document is about a policy created in 2015, then add 2015 to the file name. If the document is about the annual meeting of 2019, then add 2019 to the file name. The date a file is uploaded is not usually useful as the upload date is not necessarily the date that the document was created. Do not add a day as this information is unlikely useful.
If a document is being revised, always use the same name for it and add a new version number. Never change a revised document’s name each time it is revised or updated.
Best Format for Saving Files
Use a pdf file format for a final version. Only use a file type that is commonly available. PDF is quite likely the best file type to use and has stood the test of time for accessibility.
Create a library of Terms
Agree on short forms and acronyms to use in file names. Include the library of terms in the naming convention policy. Don’t get too complicated and stick to commonly used short forms.
For example, use AM for the annual meeting, RFS for reserve fund study, FIN for financial, HR for human resources, GL for general ledger, PM for property manager, Dir for Director, and so on.
File Name Examples
A document about monthly financial statements for the month of June.
A policy document for review that outlines how the organization’s CEO will be compensated.
Improving Poorly Named Documents
This is not a useful document title. It is vague and could be about anything. A more descriptive title would make it easier to know what the document is about.
An improvement is “Report_Operating_Expenses_June2022”
Worse still is the example “TR_2022-6-15 112559.pdf” What this document is about, no one knows!
Putting the version number in the middle of the document name makes it more difficult for people to follow version changes. I recommend adding version information at the end of the file name just after a document date, if used. Adding 2022 twice is not helpful.
An improved file name is “CEO_Compensation_2022_v1.pdf.”
A further improvement would add additional information as to content. Is this a policy document reviewing the CEO’s compensation in 2022 or does it simply state the CEO’s compensation in 2022.
Further clarification results in “CEO_Compensation_Policy_Guideliness_2022_v1.pdf.”
c) Draft 2022 V2 AA-FWA Non-Consolidated yr ended Feb 28, 2022.pdf
I suggest removing the date confusion and adding the draftv2 at the end. The specific date of Feb 28 for year-end is not needed. In this example AA-FWA seems to be the name of the organization.
d) June22 Treasurer’s report–final-June 8.pdf
Remove “June22” and add to the end of the file name.
An improved title is Treasurers_Report_Final_June2022, but it is still unclear as to what the treasurer’s report contains. Is it the financial statements for the month of June 2022 or the year-end financial statements for 2022.
e) Insurance 2022 AGM.pdf
Another example of a vague title. Is this a new insurance policy being proposed, a copy of the existing policy or a general discussion about insurance? Also, it is not clear why AGM would be needed at the end of the title.
An improvement would look like “InsurancePolicyComprensive_2022
Step Two: Organizing Files
In addition to the file naming convention, every document system requires a file/folder or tagging system to organize documents into groups. In a board management system like BoardSpace, tags are used to organize documents. As each properly named document is uploaded it also needs to be organized using one or more tags. Two to three tags is recommended as optimal.
Ensuring that documents are organized properly is essential to ensure that documents can be found. The best tagging system is only as good as the file naming convention. It is not helpful if a user is shown a list of potential documents with vague, inconsistent or confusing file names.
Storing documents is not an easy task. Naming documents is much more than simply throwing words together randomly. Naming conventions and tagging systems when followed rigorously allow users to find their documents fast and easily. It does take work to get used to a new naming convention but users will be very happy when they can find what they are looking for quickly.
Many document storage systems are available, some of them are even free. Free is not always the best because systems that are not designed for board-led organizations often result in long-term pain when adding and removing users. A system like BoardSpace is specifically designed for condos, HOAs, POAs, nonprofits and other board-led organizations.