Naming conventions--the idea that related files are named in consistent ways--are clever time-savers, because they help ensure that the file name remains meaningful to you across time and through changes in context. Last year, I wrote that “every minute you spend teaching naming conventions at the start of the semester buys you up to ten minutes per student over the course of the semester.”

The difference between grading forty files named “paper1.doc” and those same forty files named “StudentName Course PaperTopic.rtf” really adds up over the course of the semester. (Of course, you have to be very specific in your instructions, else you will literally get files named “StudentName Course PaperTopic.rtf,” quotation marks and all!)

I was reminded of this--and of faculty members’ occasional penchant for complaining when students do things we ourselves do--this week when reading Luke Turcotte’s clever explanation at HackCollege of how to “Use Hazel to Organize Your Class Documents.” Hazel is a Mac-based preference pane (for a Windows equivalent, see Belvedere) that lets you set up all kinds of rules for handling files. (And, yes, this is a belated answer to George’s question, “How Do You Unclutter Your Computer?”)

Setting up rules to handle files automatically really is a great idea, so I was eager to see how Luke applied this to his college experience. And it turns out there is a pain point in his otherwise foolproof plan--us:


After installing Hazel.prefPane, take a look at your Downloads folder. If you’re lucky, each one of your Professors uses a unique naming scheme when distributing class documents. In Hazel, after adding your Downloads folder to the left sidebar, create a new rule for the class you wish to auto-sort. You’ll need to configure the rule so that only the files associated with that particular class will match the rule.

I would like to think that’s true, but it probably isn’t. I usually remember to name my syllabuses things like “Fall 2011 ENG 458 Dickens.rtf,” but many handouts emerge at the last minute get more general names. In short, they’re not Hazel-friendly.

Here’s a natural opportunity for faculty and students to find common cause in the classroom! We’ll give them class documents with a unique naming scheme, and they will submit online assignments with one as well. It’s a simple strategy, but one that can save everyone a great deal of time and aggravation.

Do you have a handy tip for teaching naming conventions? Let us know in comments!

Photo by Flickr user samcrockett / Creative Commons licensed