Catalog newly received information
There may be many reasons why you can suddenly find yourself faced with investigating tens of thousands of files.
- Maybe you have a new job, or are appointed in charge of an on-going project, and you now have access to existing files.
- Maybe you are a consultant, receiving your client’s raw data for the first time. It’s possible that the client doesn’t know the detail of what information he has, or where they are saved.
- Maybe you are a solicitor, receiving your opponent’s files in litigation. Obviously, your adversary will not give you any help locating important information.
Whatever the reason, you need an effective approach for getting your head around the mass of documents, and get to grip with what is important – your work. And you need to do that quickly.
Generally, there are three important approaches for initially investigating this data:
- Examining the filing structure,
- Investigating the type of files, and
- Analysing the date ranges of files.
This article deals with the first of these approaches, with the other approaches being explored in subsequent articles. There will be a quick summary regarding each approach, and the reason why you would want to slice the data in these ways.
Additional articles will then explore the specific needs when investigating:
- Microsoft Office documents (Word, Excel and PowerPoint).
- Photographs and pictures, and
- Emails saved in MSG format.
Examining the filing structure – The Problem
Data contained within a Windows system does not exist in a vacuum. Each document has been created, either by a user or a computer program, and has been stored in a specific location with a specific file name as a specific file type.
Generally, each user has their own methodology of why they save in the directories that they do. When working as a part of a team, there may be a shared methodology created, but often it is either not followed, or people’s interpretations of what it means can vary.
Part of the problem occurs when multiple people work on a project, as one person’s file management may be quite different from another’s, and others may save their data in locations which you don’t know about.
The problem is multiplied when people have their own individual workspaces (such as a unique “My Documents” folder), and then multiple versions of files are then saved in multiple locations. Also, users may be less systematic about directory structure methodology when they feel they are saving in “their” space, instead of in a communal system.
Therefore, when confronted with a mass of data for the first time, understanding what the filing structure is, and its rationale, is a must. Only then can you identify what might be important for you, and what documents should be investigated further.
Can Windows Explorer help?
Unfortunately, whilst it is relatively easy to navigate in Windows Explorer, it is not as useful for investigating filing structures for the first time.
- By default, Windows 7 and 8 does not display the folder tree structure in its left-hand pane, which Windows XP did as standard (though this is easily corrected).
- Regardless of whether you can see it or not, you cannot easily export the tree structure into other packages such as Word or Excel for you to explore.
- There are no options to save the current layouts of windows for further retrieval, unless you use programs such as the Snipping Tool.
- You cannot easily annotate or color-code folders as you are investigating; the best you can do is create shortcuts and bookmarks, and assign pictures to the folder icons.
- You are unable to send the folder structure to others, such as the files’ originators, for their comments or assistance.
- The search tools available are not always easy to use, and may give incomplete results.
Therefore, Windows Explorer, though a generally useful tool in navigating to specific folders and seeing the files in that folder, may not be best way to initially investigate new data.
What’s the solution?
In my experience, to avoid the above problems the best way is to have some way to export the filing structure out of Windows Explorer, so you can avoid the limitations therein. Ideally, you want it in a program in a structured format, so that you can:
- navigate and search easily,
- annotate / make comments,
- drill down into the files contained in each folder,
- have hyperlinks back to Windows Explorer,
- create analyses easily, and
- e-mail your results to others.
Ideally, you would also want something that:
- You can launch easily from Windows Explorer, so you don’t have to waste time launching an additional program.
- Is fast.
- Is thorough.
To solve these problems, we created the Filecats range of programs. You can export the names of files and folders from Windows Explorer to either Microsoft Excel or a standalone table with just a few clicks.
- Once the catalogue has been created, the folder structure can be viewed on its own with just 1 or 2 clicks.
- Columns can be inserted, ready for your annotations.
- Hyperlinks are created in the catalogue, linking back to the folders in Windows Explorer.
- If created in Microsoft Excel, the spreadsheets can be saved and email. If created as a table, information can be copied and pasted into your favourite applications.
Whenever I receive files from an external source, on a memory stick or hard drive, the first thing I do is to create a catalog, so I can get my head around the data. It doesn’t take long, it saves me so much time, and I can become productive faster.
There is a free 7-day trial available, so you can see how much time you can save. Why not download it today?
The next in this series of articles looks at examining your new data, and seeing what files types are available.