Reviewing your files’ date range

Introduction

In the previous two articles in this series, I discussed scenarios when you might suddenly have a lot of new data to investigate, and how to efficiently view the folder tree and create analyses based on the file type.

In this article, I will discuss another important property for initially investigating your new files – the date range of your files.

Why examine your file dates?

Dates in spreadsheetThere are several important reasons why looking at the date your files were saved are important.

Firstly, as part of an initial review, if you know that a project ran between 2012 and 2013, you can categorise every file prior to 2012 after pre-start files, and every file post 2013 as post-completion files; at least, if they hadn’t been resaved with a later date. That can enable you to keycode or reduce the number of files you need to consider at a sweep.

Secondly, you may need to see whether the files that you have got are complete, or whether there are important gaps. As discussed in the previous article, you may be trying to get a complete set of minutes of meetings, and seeing a gap can either lead to the conclusion that some are accidentally missing and you need to find them, or that there were no meetings during that time period (i.e. they are intentionally missing).

Thirdly, it may be that you were not given all of the data. I worked on a project where I has handed three CDs said to contain all of the correspondence on a project. The filenames were meaningless, and could not be used to confirm or deny this suggestion. However, when the CDs had been cataloged, a quick analysis showed that there was a gap of around 9 months in the data. An enquiry to the person who provided the CDs should that around 10,000 files had “accidentally?” not been provided, and so a fourth CD was sent to fill this gap. Without this analysis, I would have not known about this discrepancy until it was too late to rectify it.

Can Windows Explorer help?

As indicated in the previous article, you can do a search on all the files and folders by going to the search box and entering *.* . It is then possible to sort by a field such as Date Modified to display them in order. However, this approach has a number of Files grouped by date in Windows Explorerdrawbacks.

1. Windows Explorer can do some grouping, such as “Today”, “Yesterday”, “Last Week”. However, once it reaches a month in the past, it then groups all the remaining into “Earlier this year” and “A long time ago”. This grouping is not customizable.

(To do this, go to View – Group By – Date Modified. If you cannot see the View menu, press Alt once beforehand. It should then appear at the top.)

2. You cannot create a summary of this data other than manually (i.e. you can highlight relevant files and have a count of the number of files, but this is a manual process).

3. You cannot export this data so you can do your own custom analyses or to graph the data, or indeed to share it with others (other than manually).

4. Every time you change the criteria or change the sorting requirements, Windows will probably re-scan the data.

5. Standard Windows fields such as Date Modified, Date Created and Date Accessed can be misleading (as discussed in the article “Are Windows Dates accurate?“), and so need to be treated with care.

So, it is possible in Explorer. But it is also tedious. Is there a better way?

A better way

FilterIdeally, you would want a way to export this data into a structured format such as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or a table.

You need to be able to quickly create analyses and graphs so you can see a an overview of the information, and maybe divide the analysis by file type. However, all of the information should be traceable back to the original files, and you should be able to open those files and folders directly from the spreadsheet or table.

If possible, you might also want more accurate dates than those reported in Explorer.

It is for these reasons that we created the Filecats series of programs. They allow you to create this spreadsheet or table with just a few clicks from Windows Explorer. All the files and folders will then be listed in a formatted table, together with hyperlinks leading back to the original data.

If you want more accurate dates, then Filecats Professional and Filecats Metadata can add the document properties from relevant documents, which includes fields such as potentially more accurate dates (see this article for more details).

Results of groupingCreating a date analysis from the spreadsheet can be done in just a few clicks, and a graph takes just a few clicks more. You could even add a timeline if you had Excel 2010 or later.

Equally, creating a date analysis from the self-contained table can also be done in just a few clicks, and you can export that data into your favorite spreadsheet program if you want a graph created.

Are you interested in the above? It really is as easy as it sounds. Have a look at this video to see more.

There is a free 7-day trial of the software, so why not download it now and create your tables and graphs from your current data, to see how it can help you with unknown information. It really saves you a lot of time and frustration, and will get you better informed more quickly.

In the next article, I will look at Microsoft Office files and see how the Filecats Metadata and Filecats Professional can help in investigating your new data quickly.

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