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CamGuides: Managing your Study Resources

Folders and files

A black and white image of an archive, with folders and files lined up on shelvesEvery Master's course requires you to deal with and manage materials. These might be lecture handouts or problem sheets, reading lists, essay drafts, typed notes, handwritten notes, and more.

It's important to devise a realistic strategy for organising and protecting these materials. You should name and file them sensibly, back them up, and perhaps make sure you can access them on different devices.

This strategy does not have to be particularly complex, but it should be secure and sustainable. Before your course starts is a really good time to figure out what this might be and make sure that you have everything set up in advance.

 

I downloaded all of my lecture notes and organised them into folders. I had this little system, nothing too sophisticated. 

- MPhil (Part III) Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics student, 2017-18

Organising your materials

Creating a sensible and consistent file and folder structure will save you plenty of time (and perhaps stress) later on. While there is no 'perfect' way to do this, it might be sensible to create a folder for each course you take, and within that to create a folder per week, or per topic, as well as one for assignment drafts.

Naming your files and folders appropriately is important. The three main criteria you should take into account in naming files are:

  1.  Ease of future retrieval and access to the files you save now
  2.  Specificity and description in naming the file
  3.  Being consistent and using naming conventions such as versions or dates

Once you have worked out what the structure might be, you might need to be strict with yourself to ensure that you use it. 

Even if you work mostly with printed materials, the same principles here apply: naming and dating the materials you have, keeping clear records, and developing a consistent and organised approach to storing these materials will be helpful.

For more information on file and folder structure, have a look at Mantra, a short course from the University of Edinburgh on record management.

 

One of the strategies that really worked for me is that when my class was over I'd go back to my room and formulate all of my notes, all the lecture notes, slides, and handouts into one place. It made it so much easier in exam time.

LLM student (2017-18)

 

Backing everything up

One of the most important things that you can do before your course begins is to ensure that you have a robust, efficient and straightforward method in place for backing up your materials. Ideally, you should back up what you use and create in at least two places in addition to your computer. Here are some ways in which you can do this.

  • Get an external hard drive: most computers now have back-up systems that work effectively with external hard drives (File History on Windows; Time Machine on Macs). You can pick up a decent hard drive for around £60. If you're using an external hard drive, set up and stick to a schedule in terms of how frequently you'll back up your computer. 
  • Use cloud storage: there are many options - Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive. They normally provide a good amount of free storage, and some will back up your work automatically. University Information Services has done a useful comparison of the various cloud options. We would always recommend making the most of Cambridge's institutional versions of cloud storage, as you'll enjoy much better control over the content you store in the cloud. More information is available from the University Information Services.
  • Back up over the internet: there are some services, such as BackBlaze, which will automatically back everything up over the internet for you. This method usually incurs a monthly cost for the storage.

If you use printed materials or write notes by hand, you will want to ensure that you have a robust system for backing these up too. One option here is to create digital versions - this has the added benefit of allowing you to bring together all of your materials for your course, regardless of their format, into one place. You might choose to scan everything you are using; alternatively apps like Scannable (free for iOS and Android) will create PDFs from photos you take of notes or handouts and will store them safely in Evernote.

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How will you back up your files, folders and the information you use and create?

Spend some time, before you arrive in Cambridge, developing a method for storing and backing up the information you use and create. This might mean investing in an external hard drive, or setting Dropbox up on your computer. Make sure whatever you choose is safe and sustainable, and that you can commit to using it.

Image credits

CC0 by Samuel Zeller via Unsplash