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05: The README file

Bite Sized Data Management

05: the README file

How many of you have noticed files entitled 'README' as you’ve been browsing through directories or ftp sites, but haven’t ever opened them to see the contents?

As it happens with many aspects of computing, having a README file has become a consensus among good computer practices. They store information on other files found in a directory or most commonly about the particulars of a computer programme or process. In other words, they will tell you what is the folder about and how can you find the stuff you are looking for.

They can also be seen as a set of instructions for users or to self! For example, when doing online research and downloading a bunch of articles into a folder, the README file could have the list of keywords and websites visited.

README files can have ANY text-based type of information and instructions. They are text files, often written in a plain text format (found in your Notepad or TextEdit editor).  

This is particularly useful when:

  • working in collaborative projects of either a stable or changing team.  
  • data is intended to be used by several people
  • or simply as a “note to self” or record of your own work

When making your own README file, make sure to:

  • Always include the date of the entry or modification
  • Avoid editing previous text, you can add “amendments” instead
  • A contact email address, preferably two in case one stops working
  • If you got help from someone to develop the contents of the folder/software, make sure you acknowledge their contribution.

(avp25, June 2017)