Tips for Folder Structure Design and Cleanup

Shared file environments can be a real challenge to organize and maintain. Below are some tips to help your shared drive structures get into and stay in shape.


  • Choose file naming conventions and stick with them. For example, unless an abbreviation is known and widely used, avoid using it in folder or file names. Make them easy to understand and reference.
  • Be consistent. A consistent approach with folder structure and file naming means there is less need for individual interpretation. Consider drafting some procedures for file and folder naming for employees to refer to.

Structure and Control

  • Start wide, go narrow. Your upper-tier folders should reflect a broader scope—user group, department, etc.—and then filter down to a more targeted scope, such as the record series level, year, and so on.
  • Take advantage of access controls that your IT department can apply to certain functions. For instance, you can request that IT restrict access to create file folders to only a few designated people.
  • Design a system for different versions of files. Whether through naming conventions, tags, or separate folders, make sure you are adequately distinguishing drafts from final versions, and records from non-records and reference.

Change Management

  • Consider starting with an audit to see how much time personnel are spending on retrieving information. During the audit, you can ask people what they like or dislike about the current structure/organization scheme/procedures/etc. They can tell you what is difficult to locate or confusing about the current system. At the same time, they can tell you what would be helpful to keep from the current system as well.
  • When revamping whole structures, create a crosswalk that users can refer to. This way, they will know their information was not lost in the move, and they will have a file path they can follow to the new location. Additionally, show users how to pin frequently accessed folders to Quick Access (right click on the folder and select “Pin to Quick access” in File Explorer). Consider leaving the old structure in place with read-only privileges for a short period of time. This way, users will have access to information, but they will not be able to edit it. They will still need to learn the new structure within a set period.
  • Train new employees about the file structure and how they are managed. Consider building periodic refreshers into your records training.


  • Dispose of the ROT—redundant, obsolete, trivial—items before creating a new file structure. Designate a record copy and dispose of the rest (unless it is an essential record).
  • Organize with retention in mind. Make it easy on yourself and others by organizing with the idea that you’ll eventually reach the end of each record’s lifecycle, and many of your records will be disposed. Perhaps this means dividing up records in folders on a calendar-year or fiscal-year basis. Maybe it means making a trigger event date part of the folder name.

Shared drives can be chaotic, but they don’t have to be that way. Employing simple techniques like the ones above can go a long way to bringing order to disorganization.

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