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Storing Text on Computer Disks

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move Use a wordprocessor and
file manager to begin
your computer database
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Store information systematically:
Directories Paths Directory Names

Storing information in compatible format


Disks and disk drives

Store information systematically

By storing information in computer files systematically, and arranging the files in a way that you can easily find them, you can create your personal computer memory of information (a

The way that information is stored on a computer can be compared (rather loosely) to the way that paper information is stored in filing cabinets. You can imagine:

Disk drives (A: for floppy disk, C: hard disk on your own computer, Another letter: CD Rom drive) can be thought of as filing cabinets.

Directories are structures we create on disk to organise our files in. You can imagine these as filing cabinet drawers, or as folders.

Files can be imagined as documents in folders, or as folders in drawers. The reason that many people think of them as documents is that they only keep one document in a file. This means that every time they write a letter they make a new file. Labelling all these files becomes quite a problem.

One file can be used for several documents. A file called letters could contain all the letters you write. You can arrange them in alphabetical order of the names of people they are sent to, and in date order of being written. At the top of the file you could write an index: an alphabetical list of the names the letters were sent too. When you want to look at what you wrote to someone, you can go to their letters by using the wordprocessor's search facility.

If you use the system of putting several documents in one file you will be able to review issues without having to open lots of files. In a letters file, as well as the letters you send to people, you will be able to keep email and faxes, including emails you receive.

In academic files this system can make your notes and essays automatically part of a subject database. For example, imagine a student with a computer file called Freud. In it she has two essays on Freud, her notes on Freud lectures and on books about Freud's theories. At the top of the file she has made a contents list, followed by a chronology of Freud's life and work which she adds to as she deals with new aspects. When working on an issue about Freud, she can find information from her notes and essays in this file by using search.

File Manager
A program called file manager allows you to organise your files and directories. You can look at the way files are organised on a disk, move and copy files, search them, look inside a file, delete files, create directories and travel around a directory tree. You can find out how to use file managers by using the help function

Directory and directories:

A directory is a group of
computer files on a disk. The directory lists the names of the files that it contains, and any subdirectories that branch from it. The root directory is the main directory of a disk. All other directories branch from the root, forming a tree.

The following diagram shows a directory structure created on a student's floppy disk to keep her files in order.

A directory tree

In the Depot directory she puts files about her studies. This student has chosen to make subdirectories for Freud, Wollstonecraft and Durkheim because she has a lot of files about them. Another student might, as suggested earlier, have just one file on each subject, and keep all her documents in it. The depot would then contain files labelled by subject with all the documents on that subject in the file.

In the Books directory she has a file in which she writes the bibliographic details of every book she reads. Like this:

Evans, J. and others 1986 Feminism and Political Theory. Sage. London.

Evans, R. I. (Editor) 1976 R.D. Laing. The Man and His Ideas. E.P. Dutton. New York.

By writing the author, date of publication, title, place of publication and publisher of every book in one file, she saves herself a lot of time when compiling bibliographies. The entries she needs can just be copied from the books file to her bibliography.

The Admin directory has her file for addresses and telephone numbers, the file she keeps her accounts on, and similar administrative files. She has made a subdirectory for her letters, rather than keeping them all in one file.

The Courses directory is for files about courses she is doing (as distinct from the subjects she studies in them).

The Intray is where she puts files she has not sorted yet. For example, if she saves file from the world wide web she could save them here.


A folder is the name that versions of Microsoft Windows since 1995 have given to a directory. The folders appear on the windows screen as yellow folders


A path is the way you tread across a computer disk or network in order to get to somewhere like a file. Nowadays, paths are often hidden from the user by the graphical display on the screen, but you will see one in the location (address) box at the top of this browser. It is probably:

The address of a web page is the path to the file that makes the page. In this case, the file is called store.htm and it is kept in a directory called study, which is in a directory called www, in another www directory at Middlesex University.

The following is the path to a sound file on a personal computer:


C: is the disk on which the file is stored

\ is the sign used to separate steps along the path. On the world wide web the sign / separates steps.

MYDOCU~1 is the first directory on the path. On the main screen of Windows95 (or later) this appears with the long name My Documents and is known as a Desktop Folder. This directory and its name are created by the software manufacturer. Other steps along the path are made by the user.

MYSOUNDS is a directory that the user has created inside the first directory. In Windows95 (or later) this is called a folder

SPANISH.WAV is a sound file that the user has put into the directory.

Directory Names

Depot is a convenient name for a
computer directory in which to keep all your files about subjects you study. If all these files are kept in one directory, it will be easy to search them for words to find out which ones have anything to say about a particular issue.

My Documents is the name given by the software manufacturers to the directory in which Windows95 (and later) stores data files made by the computer user, to kepp them separate from program files. A directory with the same function is often called WORK

WORK: is the name often given to a directory where data files made by the computer user are kept separate from program files. In Windows95 (and later) the directory for doing this is called My Documents.

Storing information in compatible format

You can save data from almost all computer applications as a file on a disk. However, applications save information in different file formats. Often these different formats are indicated by the three letter extension at the end of the file name. Here are some examples:

Freud.htm is a file in
HTML (hypertext markup language) from the World Wide Web. If you look at it in a browser the markup will be converted to colours etc. If you look at in a wordprocessor, the mark up will be mysterious codes interfering with what you are reading.

Freud.txt is a file in plain text. It has just the basic letters and numbers of what was written, without any fancy things like bold, italic or fonts. It is a friendly little file that will be readable and usable in almost any application.

Freud.doc is a file created for Word for Windows. Freud.wpd is created for Wordperfect for Windows. Both may be full of interesting twiddles like fancy fonts and a swish layout, but they can be very unfriendly and simply refuse to open if you try to look at them in another wordprocessor.

Most wordprocessors can convert files from other formats. The general principle is that recent wordprocessor versions will be able to convert from older versions and, usually, from other wordprocessors, but older wordprocessors will not be able to convert files from more recent versions. Most wordprocessors, however, can save files in different formats. Files that are saved in an old format will be usable in a wider range of programs.

If you want the information in your files to be part of your computer database, you will want all the information in a compatible format. On my computer I save almost everything as a WP5.1 file. You will probably find it more convenient to use a Windows based wordprocessor.


Strictly speaking, a database is a structured set of data held in a computer. A data bank can be unstructured. But database has entered the language in a way that data bank has not, and is used for structured and unstructured stores of information. A database can be any size from a large scale public source of information to a private
computer file.

An example of a relatively unstructured database would be a computer file in which you recorded every book you read, in alphabetical order of author. This would be the place that you would look for the bibliographical details of books, on whatever occasion. The Search function of your wordprocessor would enable you to search for any word, whether the author's name, part of the title, or whatever. (You can make alphabetical lists easier to search by using a hash (#) in front of the letters of the alphabet, so that you can search #P etc). You can also search directories of files to see which ones mention a particular issue.

An example of a structured database is a library's computer based catalogue. Structured databases have records of the same structure. Each record has the same fields. In a structured database of books, for example, the records might be for individual books, and each record might have a field for the author's name, a field for date of publication, a field for title, and so on. The advantage of structured data bases is that they can be designed so that you can select and sort specified ranges of information. You might, for example, instruct a structured database to make a list of the authors names, publication dates and titles of the books in the database that had "society" in their title.

Your own structured databases can be constructed with specialised computer software. You can also make them with a wordprocessor like WP5.1 using the "merge" function. Large public databases of information can be used in the library or over the world wide web.

Disks and disk drives

Disks are computer devices for storing information ( programs and data).

They include floppy disks, which can be carried around and just slot into the floppy disk drive of whatever computer you are using; and hard disks, which are kept permanently in the computer.

A disk drive is a mechanism for rotating the disk and reading or writing data.

This is what the usual floppy disk looks like:
Click the disk to see where to put it.

The disk slots into a drive at the front of the computer. Click the disk for a diagram of the computer and the drive.

Computers use letters to show which disk or disk drive is the one to work on.

A: is a floppy disk drive.

B: (when it exists) is a second floppy disk drive.

C: is the first hard disk.

If many files are kept on floppy disks is sensible to arrange them in directories. Hard disks are so large that the files must be in directories. Before hard disks came into general use, programs worked by inserting different floppy disks into A: and B: Another use for two floppy disk drives is when the A: drive is used for 3.5" disks and the B: drive for 5.25" disks. 5.25" disks are unusual nowadays.

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