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Geographic Information Science is a field that requires basic computer literacy.  The goal of these pages is to help students who are interested in GIS to be certain that they have mastered skills that are necessary to their success in future GIS courses and beyond. One of the criteria for enrollment in GIS courses at the University of West Florida is viewing this material and providing evidence that you possess these minimum competencies through a written exam.

Here you will learn the following concepts:

  • Save a file with a meaningful name to a specific location.

  • Recognize different File types and the appropriate uses of each.

  • Recall and locate where files are being saved.

  • Use ‘save as’ to create a copy of a file.

  • Use folders to manage files.

  • Unzip a file after it has been downloaded and note where the extracted files are being saved.

File Naming Conventions

Naming folders and files in a consistent, logical and predictable way means that information may be located, identified and retrieved by yourself or colleagues, as quickly and easily as possible. The simple rules apply equally to electronic and physical files and folders. The file name describes, at a glance, what the document is about, making it easier to browse files more effectively and efficiently.

File Names should be:

  1. Unique
  2. Indicate what the file contains
  3. Reflect how you work with your information (what is significant, what is most likely searched for, who the audience is)
  4. Naturally ordered
  5. Consistent and understood by everyone

Click on each of the following rules for more information and examples.


 1. Keep file names short and meaningful.

File names should be kept as short as possible while also being meaningful. Avoid using initials, abbreviations and codes that are not commonly understood. This is particularly important for records which have to be kept for a long period of time as the meaning of the acronym may not be known over time.

Bad: Arc_GIS_Overview_Lab_Week_1_My_Process_Summary_firstname_lastname.docx

Good: ArcGISOverviewProcessSummaryfirstnamelastname.docx

Why? Some words add length to a file name but do not contribute towards the meaning, for example words like “the”, “a”, and “and”. Where the remaining file name is still meaningful within the context of the file directory these elements can be removed. Sometimes words have standard abbreviations, e.g. “Wk” is a standard abbreviation for “week”; where this is the case the standard abbreviation can be used.


 2. Avoid unnecessary repetition and redundancy in file names and file paths.

Avoid redundancy in file names and file paths. Unnecessary repetition increases the length of file names and file paths which is incompatible with rule 1. This rule assumes that appropriate file structures are in place to support the efficient management of documents.

Bad: /.../GIS4043/Lab4/GIS4043Lab4ProcessSummary.doc

Good: /.../GIS4043/Lab4/ProcessSummary.doc

Why? The folder and subfolder that contains this file are called “GIS4043” and "Lab4" respectively. It is not necessary to include these words in the file name because all the records in that folder are GIS 4043, Lab 4 documents.


 3. When including a personal name in a file name give the last name followed by the initials.

It may be appropriate to include within a file name the name of an individual, usually when the record is a piece of correspondence. When it is appropriate to include a personal name it should be given as last name first followed by initials, with no comma, as it is most likely that the record will be retrieved according to the last name of the individual.

Bad: SamRBrownProcessSummary.doc

Good: BrownSRProcessSummary.doc

Why? This is a document that belongs to Samuel R Brown. By putting your last name first the file directory will display this file next to the B's, which is where you (and your instructors) would expect to find a document belonging to Mr. Brown.


 4. Avoid using common words such as ‘draft’ or ‘letter’ at the start of file names.

Avoid using common words such as ‘draft’ or ‘letter’ at the start of file names, or all of those records will appear together in the file directory, making it more difficult to retrieve the records you are looking for.

If these words help with searching for your file, you may want to ignore this rule sometimes.

Bad: DraftBrownSRProcessSummary.doc

Good: BrownSRProcessSummaryDraft.doc

Why? The file directory will list files in alphanumeric order. This means that all records with file names starting “Draft” will be listed together. When retrieving files it will be more useful to find the draft document next to the final document rather than next to an unrelated draft document.


 5. Avoid using non-alphanumeric characters in filenames.

Different operating systems (e.g. Linux, OS X, Windows) have different file name requirements, in particular different characters that they do not recognise in file names. The use of these characters can cause problems. Even if your operating system allows you to save the file you may encounter difficulties if you try to transport the file to another operating system, for example the file may not be recognised, or if you send it to someone else they may not be able to open it. It is therefore recommended that you avoid the use of non-alphanumeric characters in filenames. In general, avoid: * : \ / < > | " ? [ ] ; = + & £ $ , . However, hyphens (-) may be used.

Bad: Data&MapsReport.pdf

Good: DataAndMapsReport.pdf

Why? Most non-alphanumeric characters can be omitted without much loss of meaning, e.g. commas and quotation marks. Others can be replaced with alphanumeric characters, e.g. "&" and "+" can be replaced with "And" and "Plus". Hyphens can be used in place of forward slashes and brackets.


File Types

Windows file names have two parts; the file's name, then a period followed by the extension (suffix). The extension is a three- or four-letter abbreviation that signifies the file type. For example, in letter.docx the filename is letter and the extension is docx. Extensions are important because they tell your computer what icon to use for the file, and what application can open the file. For example, the doc extension tells your computer that the file is a Microsoft Word file.

If you want to open a MAC OS X file in Windows, you may need to add the extension to a MAC OS X file name so Windows can recognize it. For example, if you have a Word 6 MAC OS X document named letter that you want to open in Windows, you need to rename the file letter.docx so that Word in Windows will recognize and open the file.


 Click here to expand for General File Types
File extensionFile Type
.AIFF or .AIFAudio Interchange File Format
.AUBasic Audio
.AVIMultimedia Audio/Video
.BATPC batch file
.BMPWindows BitMap
.CLASS or .JAVAJava files
.CSVComma separated, variable length file (Open in Excel)
.CVSCanvas
.DBFdbase II, III, IV data
.DIFData Interchange format
.DOC or .DOCXMicrosoft Word for Windows/Word97
.EPSEncapsulated PostScript
.EXEPC Application
.FM3Filemaker Pro databases (the numbers following represent the version #)
.GIFGraphics Interchange Format
.HQXMacintosh BinHex
.HTM or .HTMLWeb page source text
.JPG or JPEGJPEG graphic
.MACMacPaint
.MAPWeb page imagemap
.MDBMS Access database
.MID or .MIDIMIDI sound
.MOV or .QTQuickTime Audio/Video
.MTB or .MTWMiniTab
.PDFAcrobat -Portable document format
.P65
.T65
PageMaker (the numbers following represent the version #) P=publication, T=template
.PNGPublic Network graphic
.PPT or .PPTXPowerPoint
.PSDAdobe PhotoShop
.PSPPaintShop Pro
.QXDQuarkXPress
.RARealAudio
.RTFRich Text Format
.SITStuffit Compressed Archive
.TARUNIX TAR Compressed Archive
.TIFTIFF graphic
.TXTASCII text (Mac text does not contain line feeds--use DOS Washer Utility to fix)
.WAVWindows sound
.WK3Lotus 1-2-3 (the numbers following represent the version #)
.WKSMS Works
WPD or .WP5WordPerfect (the numbers following represent the version #)
.XLS or .XLSXExcel spreadsheet
.ZIPPC Zip Compressed Archive


 Click here to expand for GIS related file types
Name of FormatSample File NameDescription
Vector (& Sometimes Raster) Data
Arc ExportWetlands.E00This is a proprietary file format used to distribute Arc/Info datasets. Topology and attributes are properly maintained in this format.
Arc ShapeSee descriptionShape files are used in ArcView.  A shape file actually consists of 3-6 separate files (ending in .dbf, .shx, .shp, .sbx, .sbn, etc.) and might be delivered as a single ZIP'ped file.  Shape files do not have topology.
ZipWetlands.ZIPOne or more files compressed and consolidated into a single binary file.  Use WinZIP to uncompress and extract the contents of the ZIP file.
GeodatabaseTown.MDBOne or more feature classes and raster datasets stored in a Microsoft Access database file (=personal geodatabase) or a series of files and folders (=file geodatabase). File geodatabases are preferred.
Self Extracting ZipWetlands.EXEThe same as above, but does not require WINZIP to uncompress and extract the contents.  Simply double click on the EXE file and it will unzip itself.
MIFWetlands.MIFMap InFo vector format.  MapInfo is a popular GIS software product.
DXFWetlands.DXFThese are drawing files from CAD systems. 
DWGWetlands.DWGThese are drawing files from CAD systems. 
DGNWetlands.DGNA file format used by some CAD systems (e.g., Design files from Bentley MicroStation)
TIGER TIGER files contain the data from our national censuses.
VPFWetlands.VPFVector Product Format is commonly used in military applications.
DLGWetlands.DLGDigital Line Graph file format is common on some government web systems and and is a way to move data from one GIS system to another.
SDTSWetlands.SDTSThe Spatial Data Transfer Standard format is designed to be the single, standard file format for distributing spatial data.  The USGS uses SDTS as a common format already.
Image Data
TIFFWetlands.TIFAn image file format.  The resolution can be very good and the image can be georeferenced (meaning that you can overlay other GIS data on top).  The georeferencing often accompanies the TIF file as a second file called the TIFF world file and carries an extension like .tfw.  TIFF files can be very large, there is little compression.
GIFFWetlands.GIFA common format for image data.  GIF does not support georegistration.  Image resolution can be excellent and file sizes modest.
JPEGWetlands.JPGA common format for image data.  JPEG can support georegistration.  Image resolution can be excellent and file sizes can be quite small.  JPEG compresses images nicely but there can be some loss of resolution.
SIDWetlands.SIDA very efficient compression format for image data.   Many GIS data viewers can directly read images compressed using "Mr. SID" compression tools.
Raster Data
DEMElevation.DEMTopographic data sometimes come as DEM's -- Digital Elevation Models -- a format used by USGS.
LANWetlands.LANA file format used by Erdas image processing software.
IMGWetlands.IMGErdas Imagine uses this format for satellite and other image data.
BILWetlands.BILBand Interleaved format is a common format for distributing satellite image data.
BSQWetlands.BSQBand SeQuential format is a common format for distributing satellite image data.

Miscellaneous Formats

VRMLParis.VRMLVirtual Reality Markup Language -- a web-based format for viewing 3-D animations.  Frequently used for displaying fly-over animations in GIS and manipulating 3-D renderings of spatial data.
ArcMap ProjectTOWN.MXDA file containing an ArcMap project document.

These lists are by no means complete. If the file extension you are using is not listed here, you may find the information by looking in the software manual or software application's Web site.


Showing File Extensions

If none of your file names have extensions, file extensions are hidden. To show file extensions:

1. In the File Explorer, click the "View" tab and select the check box next to "File name extensions." 

checkbox for file name extensions

You can also follow these instructions, which will work for older versions of Windows. 
1. Click on the start menu and type "Show hidden files and folders," then press the enter key or select that option from the list of results.

hide extensions of known file types


2. In the "View" tab, make uncheck the option "Hide extensions for known file types."
3. Click "Apply" then "OK".

Searching by File extensions

Sometimes you may want to search for all files of a certain type. For example, you may want to find a .pst file or a .mp3 file on your computer. Follow these steps to search for a file extension. 

1. Click on the Start menu or search bar and type "*" followed by the file extension you wish to search (ex. *.jpg) and hit the "Enter" key. 

searching for file extensions in start menu

2. Windows will now search for files ending in the specified extension. 

Use ‘save as’ to create a copy of a file or save as a different format.

To save a file in Microsoft Office programs, follow these steps:

  1. On the File menu, click Save As.
  2. In the Save As box, type a name for the document.
  3. Choose the Format type such as Word Document (.docx) or another format you would like. 
    1. By default, the file is saved in the Documents folder. If you want to save the file in a different folder, change the Where box to the different folder.
    2. By default, the file is saved with the following extensions:
    3. When you save an Excel worksheet, Excel Workbook (.xlsx) is listed in the Format box.
    4. When you save a PowerPoint presentation, PowerPoint Presentation (.pptx) is listed in the Format box.
    5. When you save a Word document, Word Document (.docx) is listed in the Format box.
  4. Click Save

To save a file in a different file format, follow these steps.

  1. On the File menu, click Save As.
  2. In the Save As box, type a name for the document. By default, the file is saved in the Documents folder. If you want to save the file in a different folder, change the Where box to the other folder.
  3. In the Format box, select the new format in which you want to save the file. For example:
    • If you want to save an Excel workbook in an earlier version of the Excel file format, select Excel 97–2004 Workbook (.xls).
    • If you want to save a PowerPoint presentation in an earlier version of the PowerPoint file format, select PowerPoint 97–2004 Presentation (.ppt).
    • If you want to save a Word document in an earlier version of the Word file format, select Word 97–2004 Document (.doc).
    • Choose PDF if you want to save the file in PDF format. Only save the document as a PDF once the document has been completed, once it is saved as a PDF it can no longer be modified within Word.
  4. Click Save.

When you save a file in a different file format, some features that are supported by the current file format may be lost. You may want to save a copy of your file in the current file format before you save the file in a different file format.


Use folders to manage files.

You can easily manage your files and folders using File Explorer in the Desktop view. 

File Explorer (previously known as Windows Explorer) allows you to open, access, and rearrange your files and folders in Desktop view. If you've used prior versions of Windows before, File Explorer should feel like a familiar way to manage and organize your files.

  1. Click the folder icon on the taskbar in Desktop view to open File Explorer.


To change the content view:


The View tab makes it easy to change the way files are displayed within a folder. For example, you may prefer to see your files as a list when viewing documents and as large icons when viewing pictures. Select the View tab, and then choose your preference from the Layout group.


To sort files:


Depending on the folder, you may also want to sort your files. For example, you can sort files by size, name, date created, date modified, file type, and much more. Select the View tab, click the Sort by button, and then choose your preference from the drop-down menu.



Recall and locate your saved files

Searching with File Explorer

In addition to the Search feature found on the Charms bar, you can also search for files directly from File Explorer using the Search bar. File Explorer also offers more advanced search options, which can be especially helpful if you're having trouble finding a specific file.

  1. To use the Search bar:

  2. Locate and select the Search bar in File Explorer.
  3. Enter a file name or keyword. Your search results will appear as you type.
  4. The Search Tools tab

Whenever you enter a term into the search bar, the Search Tools tab will open automatically on the Ribbon. This tab gives you access to advanced search options, which allow you to limit your search by file type, size and date modified, view your recent searches, and more.



Zip a file for upload

Zipped (compressed) files take up less storage space and can be transferred to other computers more quickly than uncompressed files. In Windows, you work with zipped files and folders in the same way that you work with uncompressed files and folders. Combine several files into a single zipped folder to more easily share a group of files.

  1. Locate the file or folder that you want to zip.
  2. Press and hold (or right-click) the file or folder, select (or point to) Send to, and then select Compressed (zipped) folder. A new zipped folder with the same name is created in the same location.
  3. To rename it, press and hold (or right-click) the folder, select Rename, and then type the new name.

zipping files

  • To add files or folders to a zipped folder you created earlier, drag them to the zipped folder.
  • If you add encrypted files to a zipped folder, they'll be unencrypted when they're unzipped, which might result in unintentional disclosure of personal or sensitive information. For that reason, we recommend that you avoid zipping encrypted files.
  • Some types of files, like JPEG images, are already highly compressed. If you zip several JPEG pictures into a folder, the total size of the folder will be about the same as the original collection of pictures.



Unzip a file after it has been downloaded

Zipping allows multiple files to be packaged into a single small bundle. Zipping is commonly used for emailing attachments and internet downloads. Read below to learn how to unzip or "extract" zipped files.

  1. Locate the zipped folder that you want to unzip (extract) files or folders from.
  2. Do one of the following:
    1. To unzip a single file or folder, open the zipped folder, then drag the file or folder from the zipped folder to a new location.
    2. To unzip all the contents of the zipped folder, press and hold (or right-click) the folder, select Extract All, and then follow the instructions.  
    3. Be sure to pay attention to where you save the extracted files! Save files to your dedicated drive and working folder for GIS.

unzipping a file





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