I have less hair today because of a dash.

Yes, a dash in a filename turned an easy processing job into one that took much longer than necessary caused by a problem with a dash in a filename.

This issue reminded me of how crucial it is to name a file correctly.  In my previous life, investigators would bring me data copy from their external drive when I would often encounter the dreaded "file names too long" error message.

Both Microsoft and Apple impose limitations on file name length.  This limit includes not only the file name but also the entire document path.  

The reason for this error - especially with Windows-based systems is that there is a limitation of 256 characters in a filename.  There are also some issues with using specific characters.  Two things to keep in mind when you are naming your native files - try to avoid using a period "." and also the dash "-".   Using a period in your filename could be confusing because this is generally the delimited used for identifying the file extension.  Believe me, periods can really screw up processing.   When using a dash, sometimes when users add a dash, sometimes it will automatically add a long dash depending on how you add it.  Many users won't even know this has happened.  Instead of using periods and dashes, try using underscores instead.  For example:

Instead of:  ImportantDocument - Confidential - 02.14.2022.doc 

Do this instead:  ImportantDocument_Confidential_02_14_2022.doc

In the Litigation Support Guru blog by Amy Bowser-Rollins, she outlines the following suggestions for filenames:

  • Use underscores instead of spaces - Why?  Empty spaces typically signify the end of a character string.  When an application sees a space, it sees the end and stops processing.  When the full string is not processed, it won't be properly represented on your computer screen and won't copy into emails automatically as hyperlinks, etc. 
  • Zero-fill numbered files - The computer reads files differently and sorts based upon numbering.  In names, numbers sort left to right instead of numerically, so a file named "ImportantDocument10" will come before "ImportantDocumnent8" and "ImportantDocument9" because the first digit of 10 is 1 and comes before 8 and 9.  To have them sorted in order you need to include leading zeroes such as ImportantDocument08, ImportDocument09, ImportDocument10.
  • Dates should be in Year-Month-Day Format - Again, this is for sorting purposes because numbers in names sort left to right instead of numerically.  Instead of using 02_14_2022-IncomingData, you should use 20220214-IncomingData to keep it in correct sorting order.
Another good source of information for file naming conventions is from Purdue University's website at:  File Naming Conventions - Data Management for Undergraduate Researchers - Library Guides at Purdue University Libraries

Naming files is a good way to organize your data and provide for quick retrieval when needed in searches. 

Also, keep in mind that as mentioned above, the entire document path counts toward the character limits so also organize your data so that there won't be multiple folder levels as well. I can't tell you how many times I have had to tell agents and legal support staff that their file path is too long.  Folder structure is good but too many can be a headache as much as the filename itself.

Organization is good but also know the limitations of processing or copying data.  If you need further assistance with this issue, please contact your litigation support professional. 


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