Software conversion, or “data conversion,” may refer to one of two things: a change in software, such as from one operating system to another, or a change in file type formats. The latter starts off with some relatively simple procedures, such as the conversion of individual text files from one editor’s format to another, but it can represent a much more complicated process, such as the conversion of graphic and office software files. These types of files are more heavily formatted to begin with, making changing their file type a more involved activity. Most complicated of all is the transition between heavyweight software packages, particularly operating systems.

Here are 5 tips for surviving a software conversion with your data (and your sanity) intact:

Outline the Scope of the Conversion

Are you converting a handful of files, or the entire digital archive of a large organization? This will make a profound difference in many ways. It affects the likelihood of there being errors, the complexity of the instructions you will need to follow, the cascading effect of anything going wrong, and the amount of time the conversion will take. You need to make sure that you have everything you will need before starting the conversion, including the requisite amount of time, in advance.

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Talk to Your Vendor

Are you changing your operating system, or moving from one vital piece of software to a replacement system? Your new software’s vendor will almost assuredly have a support staff and specific advice for making the conversion as seamless as possible. This is something that most of their clientele will have to deal with as a matter of course; it is in their best interests to ensure that your transition goes as smoothly as possible. Follow any advice and instructions provided to you by your vendor; they will most likely have specific input with regard to the software or platform you are converting from.

What Software Will You Need?

Depending upon the types of files that you will be converting, you will need one or more software packages to perform the conversion itself. Make sure you know what it is that you’ll be working with, in advance. There is software for converting audio files, video files, image files, office documents, and other very specific file types. There are also more broadly-based types of file conversion software, such as complete audio-visual packages; these can be helpful if you have a large and varied job ahead. Conversely, the more specialized software is usually better, within its particular range.

Understand the Data Being Converted

Do some research, before attempting a data or file conversion. Make sure you understand the difference between the file types you’re going to be working with. Sometimes, this is a matter of proprietary formatting, but it can just as easily reflect types of data within a file that will be organized differently under the new format. This will make the process more intuitive for you, and will assist you in following the instructions for the conversion software that you’re using.

Always Back Up Your Files

Before you attempt a file conversion, make sure that you create (or update, if applicable) backup files for all of the data you’re converting. Ultimately, this is the number one survival strategy for most things computer-related. This may simply involve copying a handful of files to a different directory, or it may entail a more involved procedure: a backup program, or a separate computer. Whatever the requirements, backing up your files will make data loss much less likely in the event of file corruption, errors, or other problems.

By following some common sense advice, including manufacturer instructions and the tips listed above, you ensure that the possibility of a catastrophe during a software conversion is much less likely. This makes the entire ordeal less stressful, which is inherently helpful, as it helps to discourage the all-too-common practice of delaying conversions.