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File Organizers


File Management Utilities are programs that help visually organize a computer’s data files. It has been shown that teachers using technologies in their education practice have an increased demand on managing and storing information compared to those who don’t (Diekema & Olsen, 2014). It’s also been suggested files are stored according to mental schemas, not in linear or logically efficient ways (Calandra & Barron, 2005).

Two distinct types of desk organizations exist: messy, and organized (Malone, 1983). These findings were also generalized to computer storage: users had either files (organized, well kept series of documents), or piles (no organization whatsoever). These findings were also generalized to email (Whittaker and Sidner, 1996). It’s also been shown that both inexperienced and experiences computer users prefer a “guess and check” method of searching for files, as opposed to using organizational features built into software (Barreau and Nardi, 1995). While not directly testing file organization, Calandra and Barron (2005) tested how well students could navigate and learn in a complexly nested website. One group in this study had no higher level organizers to help them, another group had written organizers, and a third group had written and visual organizers. The researchers found that no type of organizer affected student’s learning. However, this study did not look at speed or efficiency of finding a particular piece of information in a personally set-up directory, rather, they examined total learning that occurred using a novel and confusing database.


The simplest file organizer is a filing cabinet. Virtual file organizers include the normal Windows and Mac OS display screens; clicking through and opening files. Just like physical worksheets, virtual files need to be managed to stay organized. Software such as BumpTop turn computer screens into a virtual desk where a stylus or touch can be used to move folders and files around, dropping them wherever desired. Other programs, such as WinDirStat provide a colored map of the computer’s entire hard drive, representing stored files by size. One of the most iconic software is File System Visualizer, which generates a 3-dimensional “map” of the computer hard drive which can be flown through from a top down view. TreeSize is one of the most popular free file organizer tools; it can unpack an entire database with similar visuals to Windows Explorer, covert the tree-map into a pdf, and has various search utility features.

More modern applications offer alternatives to traditional file management. Notetaking software such as Evernote and Onenote don’t automatically organize files for the user, but provide an easy to use interface for dragging and dropping notes and documents. Evernote can also stack notes into a virtual “notebook” which is essentially the same thing as making a new folder in Windows or Mac OS.


Using searches to find files of interest is extremely fast with modern computers; the search bar on the OS X and Windows 10 operating systems eliminate the need for file organization, but only so long as the file names are done effectively. Eighteen years ago it was shown using the search functions in a computer was superior to clicking through files, search engines built into computers have only improved since then (Balter, 2000).


If there is a file missing, Windows has a built in command that can generate a text map of the entire hard drive. In the Command window (search for it in the Start Menu), simply type: tree > mydrive.txt and hit enter; a notepad of text will be generated with the computer’s file names written out.


Research Rating: While organization skills in general have been shown to be correlated with academic success, there is limited research on how much file management systems help improve academic performance.  


  • Easy to use

  • Likely helps students be more organized

  • Computers can search very quickly


  • Requires users to create meaningful or detailed file names

  • May seem more challenging at the beginning before the usefulness develops due to a learning curve


To Consider

  • One common convention some users find helpful is to organize files with a maximum of three levels of nesting (only two levels of files within your files).

  • The two strategies of “files” (creating files with names to organize) and “piles” (using a unique name for each document and searching the document) can be used together.

Special Consideration: Workflow

OS Compatibility
Internet Reliance
Optimized Use

Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed. 

$ - Under $5

$$ - Between $6 and $50

$$$ - Between $51 and $250

$$$$ - Over $250



Balter, O. (2000). Keystroke level analysis of e-mail message organization. CHI Letters, 2(1), 105-112


Barreau, D. & Nardi, B. (1995). Finding and reminding: file organization from the desktop. SIGCHI Bulletin, 27(3), 39-43.


Calandra, B., and Barron, A. E. (2005). A preliminary investigation of advance organizers for a complex educational website. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia. 14(1), 5-23.

Diekema, Anne R., and M. Whitney Olsen. "Teacher Personal Information Management (PIM) Practices: Finding, Keeping, and Re‐Finding Information." Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 65.11 (2014): 2261-77. Web. 23 Jan. 2018


Malone, T. (1983). How do people organize their desks? Implications for the design of office information systems. ACM Transactions on Office Information Systems, 1 (1), 99-112.


Written By Francis Wall, Last Revision February 2018

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