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Computers play a central role in the lives and activities of the majority of our authors. Many works are now created partially or wholly on computer - they are born digital. Correspondence and other work also often depend upon a computer. Although this is very convenient in many ways, we must also be careful to ensure the survival of these documents - for today and tomorrow.

Guidelines for authors

Name and organise your documents carefully

Give your documents and folders concise and meaningful names. This will not only make everyday working life easier, but will greatly facilitate looking back, and searching through all your documents, or archive, in future.

Structure your folders and materials clearly: establish a pattern that will enable you to identify different versions of a poem, or the draft number of a chapter, or any other documents, so that the document names explain their own context.

It is better to avoid capitals or unusual characters in the names of your documents in case these pose a problem for other programmes.

Date documents using the standard format YYYYMMDD; e.g. 2009-12-01.

Digital pictures are very popular. Keep these in specially designated folders, and add descriptions. The date and time of a picture will often have been noted by the camera, but small details like the name of a place, or person, or occasion can be invaluable in future.

Consider keeping e-mail messages in meaningfully named folders, such as according to correspondent or subject.

Gardening or spring cleaning

Digital documents can multiply quickly, and all sorts of materials tend to accumulate on most people's computers. Weed out redundant material, files that had temporary value, duplicates, or things that you've received from others and no longer require.

E-mails especially can quickly increase in size and number. Deleting junk mail, circulars, and old messages that you no longer require is very useful in trying to maintain order.

Try to keep e-mail messages and their attachments together.

Keep other copies to safeguard your work

Decide which documents must be saved, and make other copies of them.

Keep other copies in a different medium, and in a different place, to ensure that you'd still have a backup copy of your work even if a disaster such as a fire or theft affected your home or office.

Devise a routine for keeping these safe copies current that suits your working needs and your situation. Do you need to save another copy on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis perhaps? Would at the end of a project, or prior to publication be appropriate? If you're a writer who travels frequently, consider how and where you'd keep safe copies for reference?

Consider keeping your work on an external hard drive, memory stick, or another server. Several companies offer online storage space - would such a space be useful for you?

Investigate packages and programmes for your computer that make backups for you automatically.

Remember to make other copies of your work before updating software or hardware.

Hardware, software and changing computer

Computers age and break - if possible, consider buying a new computer before the current one expires. Our research showed that authors tend to use a computer for approximately 5 years - technology can change substantially in that period of time.

Documents can be altered while being transferred to a new computer. Ensure that your documents still work properly in a new medium, or in the latest version of a programme on a new computer.

Neglected inaccessible documents are useless! Check that you can access materials on your computer. Use open accessible software and formats - be especially aware of this if you have old documents on your computer.

Conduct a review of the documents on your computer - seek advice if you require assistance.

Now is the time to act if you have valuable materials held on old disk formats, or CDs; now is the time to test them and not in 5 or 10 years when you change computer again. This can involve a little effort, but it is a lot less hassle, and less expensive financially, and in terms of time and resources, in the long term. You could also save material that might be lost forever.

Remember to keep your computer equipment clean, and away from high temperatures. Laptops, CDs, disks or memory sticks can be quite fragile and easy to lose - take care where you carry and store them.

Use anti-virus software, and remember to keep it updated. Use a password to protect access to your computer.


Consider copyright and data protection issues. Do you have sensitive personal materials, or material under copyright on your computer? It is important to respect, protect and maintain the safety and rights of your own materials and those belonging to others.

Consider who will be your copyright holder; that is, who should be contacted for permission to use your work after you have died?

Digital will?

Consider the fate of your digital archive; where, or with whom will it end up in future? Consider creating a 'digital will' - a document which identifies where your digital files are held, the location of your various email and other accounts, how to gain access to them, and expresses your wishes for their future.

Feel free to contact us for advice on safeguarding your personal digital papers, and for further information on digital preservation more generally: email