File formats

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File formats

A file format is the form in which information is stored in a file. This will usually enable you to tell what type of information is in the file (audio, spreadsheet, text, etc) as well as which software can be used to open the file. You can tell what format the file is in by the 3 or 4 letter suffix (sometimes called an extension name) at the end of the filename, e.g. XLS format in the case of filename.xls. If you can't see the suffix, try right-clicking on the file name in the folder listing and viewing the properties information.

Different versions

In many cases the format will be dictated by the software you are using, e.g. Microsoft Word, but even then there are many versions of Word (e.g. 2003, 2007, 2010), which can affect the formatting of the document when viewed in a different version from that in which it was created. If you need to share information with other teams or institutions running different software there are a few things you can do:

  1. If the information doesn't need to be edited, send out the document as a PDF as this will preserve the fonts, formatting and layout and should be compatible with most computers.
  2. If you need the recipient to be able to edit a document, save the file in a format that can be opened in pre-2007 versions of Office - when you open an Office 97-2003 format file in Office 2010 it describes this file as being in Compatibility Mode. This guarantees that the file can be opened if exchanged with other people or transferred between PCs.
  3. Alternatively, save a word processed document as an .rtf (Rich Text Format) file which will preserve most of a document's layout and presentation for different versions of Word and other software packages.

Formats for long-term access

If you need to have long-term access to your information you need to choose a standard format when saving your data. Some formats are more suited to long term preservation than others. Using the example above, it would be better to save a final archive version of a document as PDF or .rtf rather than in a particular version of Word which may cause compatibility problems in the future.

More Information on Formats

The companion DataSafe App contains more information about which file formats are suited for particular types of material, as well as additional information to help you manage your data. The app is available for download and installation (for Android phones only). For more information about the app take a look at the DataSafe site.

1

Which of the following statements are true? Check all that apply.



a)
b)
c)
d)
a) This statement is false - many types of file can be opened by several different software packages, although they may lose some formatting if opened with software other than the software used to create them.a) False - many types of file can be opened by several different software packages, although they may lose some formatting if opened with software other than the software used to create them.b) This statement is true - use the tutorial for guidance on which formats are likely to be persistent, allowing information saved in them to remain accessible in the long term.b) True - use the tutorial for guidance on which formats are likely to be persistent, allowing information saved in them to remain accessible in the long term.c) This statement is true - the three or four characters after the dot in the file name indicate the format.c) True - The three or four characters after the dot in the file name indicate the format.d) This statement is false - .rtf is a generic format for documents. RTF documents can be opened and edited by many software packages.d) False - .rtf is a generic format for documents. RTF documents can be opened by many software packages and then edited.
Check your answer

Further reading

Choosing the right file format (Wiki Books)