Twice in the month of January, I had to find files from an old project. With resignation, I delved into old folders only to find that, wow, there’s a “FinalDocuments” subfolder with everything I need all laid out for me in a well documented way. Both of these times I was so, so thankful that my past self had the forethought to organize things for the future.
Past Kristin strikes again! I looked up files from a 2015 conference I planned and, hey look, a "FinalMaterials" folder! Nicely documented outputs from the conference in one subfolder and conference planning documents/write up (plus README.txt) in the other. #pastKristinRocks
— Kristin Briney (@KristinBriney) January 25, 2018
Looking back through the blog archives, I realize that I wrote a “Wrapping Up a Project” post 4 years ago! (Related: how the heck is this blog 5 years old?!) I still stand beside the advice I gave in that post that researchers should: back up their notes, convert file formats, use README.txt files, and keep everything together. These are generally useful strategies for all of your files that make it likely for you to still have everything in 5-10 years. However, most often when you go back to your old files you are looking for something specific.
This is why, in this post, I’m recommending that you add a step during project wrap up to select key information to copy to a “FINAL” folder (or some obvious variant of that name). Example documents include: a copy of the final publication, the raw dataset and the analyzed dataset, finalized scripts, key protocols, and JPEG files for figures. Basically you should identify the information that you will mostly likely need to refer to later and place all the final versions together in one folder. And then write a README.txt file to describe the contents of that folder.
Without this added step, you will still have your files and can open them, but you’ll likely waste a lot of time looking for exactly what you need. And even with this step, there will be times when you’ll have to dig through all of the project files to find something specific. But 90% of the time, you will save time by placing these key documents in an obvious place.
Trust me, your future self with thank you for taking 20 minutes, while you still understand the files and their organization, to set aside the important stuff for later.