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What is a CSV file?

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CSV files, or “Comma Separated Value” files, save data in a structured format. CSV files are commonly used with spreadsheet programs such as Excel or Google Sheets. CSV files contain text only, no formatting, and can also be opened in most text editing programs. CSV files are also used in e-discovery processing.

CSV file data is organized into individual records and the information in each record is separated by “delimiters.” Delimiters are characters (often commas) used to separate one value from another in a record.

Think of a record as an index card with information about a single thing–like a card with a person’s name and contact information. Generally in CSV files, each record is contained on a single line and each line consists of several fields.

For instance, if the information on the index card referenced above were put into a CSV file, the CSV file records might look like this:


CSV files are sometimes used as e-discovery load files. Load files are used to load electronically stored information (ESI) into e-discovery software so that it may be reviewed. Often, ESI protocols and agreements made by attorneys at Rule 26(f) and other discovery conferences state that when litigants produce electronic documents and ESI, they must be accompanied by a load file or CSV file. The CSV files accompanying e-discovery productions contain the relevant metadata for each document such as sender, recipient, date sent, subject, etc. Information from CSV and load files is used to tie a document’s metadata to its image file. A very simple e-discovery CSV file might look like this:

Bates000025,Bates000025,John Doe,Jane Doe,Portland Trip,1/19/2002

A more detailed discussion about CSV files may be found here.

Posted on February 6, 2015 in E-Discovery

About the Author

Chad Main is an attorney and the founder of Percipient. Prior to founding Percipient, Chad worked as a litigator in Los Angeles and Chicago. He is a member of the Seventh Circuit Electronic Discovery Pilot Program Committee and may be reached at cmain@percipient.co.