about the archives
information for researchers
about our collections
search our collections
records management
research resources
line spacer
site map
contact us
line spacer
archives home
 
notre dame home

RM Home > Tips and Training >

Filing Essentials

Good filing practices are the backbone of solid records management for your office. Some of the jargon may be intimidating - classification, metadata, schema, taxonomy - but filing is basically a matter of organizing records rationally and consistently so that you and others can quickly find information when you need it.

The Archives frequently offers advice for managing records in particular media or formats. It is natural and necessary, for instance, to approach database records differently from paper files. But certain fundamental concepts, when applied consistently to all University records regardless of their media or format, can dramatically improve your office's efficiency and productivity. Incorporate these Filing Essentials to establish and maintain control of your individual and departmental recordkeeping practices.

1. Always segregate personal records from University records.

University records are recorded information created or received in the course of conducting University business and kept as evidence of that activity. While occasional non-commercial personal use of University resources is permitted in accordance with the Responsible Use of Information Technology Resources Policy, paper and electronic records involving family, friends, or non-University activities must not be intermingled with University records.

2. Use records retention schedules.

General and office-specific records retention schedules instruct you how long to retain certain records at your office and what to do with the records at the end of that time period. Keep pertinent records retention schedules in mind as you develop your filing methods. Remember that general and office-specific schedules apply to University records in any media or format.

3. Select a filing structure that makes sense for the work your office does.

Four common filing methods are alphabetical, chronological, numerical, and subject. The right method or combination of methods for your office will depend on what records you have and how you typically use them. Let us compare these methods by considering a record series that appears in most University offices: Employee Files.

Almost every office has Employee Files that contain information on each person who works in the department. As described in the University's general schedule for Employee Files (Non-Student), the Office of Human Resources maintains the official personnel records for all non-faculty and non-student employees at the University. But your department probably has its own Employee Files that may include job applications, salary notifications, vacation reports, performance reviews, corrective action materials, and other information on each employee. The general schedule indicates that these files are to be destroyed within 3 years after an employee leaves the University or transfers to a different office. Until then, the files should be organized in a consistent filing structure.

An alphabetical filing structure could look like this:

Alphabetical
Anderson, Rebecca M.
Anderson, Willem A.
Collins, Benjamin E.
Hill, Thomas
Wilson, Margaret A.
Worth, Veronica

Using a chronological arrangement, the same files could be organized according to date of hire:

Chronological
2005
      - Collins, Benjamin E.
      - Worth, Veronica
2007
      - Anderson, Rebecca M.
2009
      - Hill, Thomas
      - Wilson, Margaret A.
2011
      - Anderson, Willem A.

With a numerical filing structure, you might file the same information according to ndID:

Numerical
900000000
      - Hill, Thomas
900005000
      - Anderson, Willem A.
900340000
      - Wilson, Margaret A.
900875000
      - Collins, Benjamin E.
900876000
      - Worth, Veronica
900900000
      - Anderson, Rebecca M.

If you choose a subject filing structure, the information could be arranged as follows:

Subject
Applications
      - Anderson, Rebecca M.
      - Anderson, Willem A.
      - Collins, Benjamin E.
      - Hill, Thomas
      - Wilson, Margaret A.
      - Worth, Veronica
Performance Reviews
      - Anderson, Rebecca M.
      - Anderson, Willem A.
      - Collins, Benjamin E.
      - Hill, Thomas
      - Wilson, Margaret A.
      - Worth, Veronica
Position Descriptions
      - Anderson, Rebecca M.
      - Anderson, Willem A.
      - Collins, Benjamin E.
      - Hill, Thomas
      - Wilson, Margaret A.
      - Worth, Veronica

In most cases, the alphabetical filing structure is the best choice for Employee Files because it allows you to quickly find a file based on the person's last name, and to locate all information pertaining to that person in one place. Chronological arrangement could make sense if your office hires many people for limited time periods, such as summer employees. The numerical method would make information retrieval more difficult since it is unlikely that you identify individuals by their ndIDs. The subject method would be useful if you routinely need to refer to, for example, performance reviews of all employees at once, but less useful if you need to refer to all documentation of one particular employee.

To select the most effective filing structures for your office, always consider what information is contained in the records and how you need to access that information. Remember that for most records it is best to begin a new set of files each year, repeating the same arrangement as the previous year. This ensures that older files can be easily identified for destruction or transfer to the Archives in accordance with records retention schedules. For record series that naturally span multiple years, such as files of long-term employees, review the files each year to make sure you do not accumulate records that have passed their Office Retention period. Records review, destruction and transfer to the Archives can all occur as part of your Annual Records Clean-Out.

4. Use the same filing structure for the same or similar records in different media.

It is very common for related records to exist on paper and electronically. Unfortunately, it is also common for people to neglect the proper filing of electronic records and to rely instead on electronic search functionality. In the short term, such neglect can cause substantial delays in information retrieval for you, your co-workers, and your successors. In the long term, neglecting to properly file electronic records will make it exceedingly difficult and time-consuming to comply with records retention schedules and could expose the University to security and legal risks if records are retained unnecessarily.

To quickly locate related information in paper records, email, and private or shared server space, apply parallel filing methods for the various media on which your records exist. The top level folders should be nearly identical, while lower level folders may differ, as reflected in the following examples:

 

Example 1
Records of interactions with various University divisions and departments

EMAIL PAPER SERVER
Inbox
    Division A
      - Office a Correspondence
      - Office b Correspondence
    Division B
      - Office a Correspondence
      - Office b Correspondence
    Division C
      - Office a Correspondence
      - Office b Correspondence
Sent Mail
Division A
    Office a
      - Meeting Notes
      - Project Notes
    Office b
      - Meeting Notes
      - Project Notes
Division B
    Office a
      - Meeting Notes
      - Project Notes
    Office b
      - Meeting Notes
      - Project Notes
Division C
    Office a
      - Meeting Notes
      - Project Notes
    Office b
      - Meeting Notes
      - Project Notes
Division A
    Office a
      - Meetings
      - Projects
    Office b
      - Meetings
      - Projects
Division B
    Office a
      - Meetings
      - Projects
    Office b
      - Meetings
      - Projects
Division C
    Office a
      - Meetings
      - Projects
    Office b
      - Meetings
      - Projects

 

Example 2
Records of interactions with students

EMAIL PAPER SERVER
Inbox
    A-J Correspondence
    K-R Correspondence
    S-Z Correspondence
Sent Mail
A-J
    Adams
      - Discussion Notes
    Eisenhower
      - Discussion Notes
    Grant
      - Discussion Notes
K-R
    Kennedy
      - Discussion Notes
    Lincoln
      - Discussion Notes
    Reagan
      - Discussion Notes
S-Z
    Truman
      - Discussion Notes
    Washington
      - Discussion Notes
    Wilson
      - Discussion Notes
A-J
    Adams
      - Forms
    Eisenhower
      - Forms
    Grant
      - Forms
K-R
    Kennedy
      - Forms
    Lincoln
      - Forms
    Reagan
      - Forms
S-Z
    Truman
      - Forms
    Washington
      - Forms
    Wilson
      - Forms

 

Example 3
Records of involvement with projects

EMAIL PAPER SERVER
Inbox
    Project A Correspondence
    Project B Correspondence
    Project C Correspondence
Sent Mail
Project A
    Meeting Notes
    Final Reports
Project B
    Meeting Notes
    Final Reports
Project C
    Meeting Notes
    Final Reports
Project A
    Initiation
    Planning
    Executing
    Monitoring and Controlling
    Closing
Project B
    Initiation
    Planning
    Executing
    Monitoring and Controlling
    Closing
Project C
    Initiation
    Planning
    Executing
    Monitoring and Controlling
    Closing

 

Example 4
Records of conducting job searches

EMAIL PAPER SERVER
Inbox
    Position A
      - Candidate Correspondence
    Position B
      - Candidate Correspondence
    Position C
      - Candidate Correspondence
Sent Mail
Position A
    Applications Received
    Interview Notes
Position B
    Applications Received
    Interview Notes
Position C
    Applications Received
    Interview Notes
Position A
    Job Description
    Job Posting
    Applications Received
    Letters Sent
Position B
    Job Description
    Job Posting
    Applications Received
    Letters Sent
Position C
    Job Description
    Job Posting
    Applications Received
    Letters Sent

5. Document Your Recordkeeping Practices.

Put your office's filing procedures in writing and distribute them to all staff members to use in conjunction with records retention schedules. This is especially critical to maintain consistency in shared paper or electronic files. It is advisable to develop rules and file naming conventions that help to prevent misfiling. Office recordkeeping procedures could include rules such as:

  • At the end of a project, review and organize all files related to that project. Discard unneeded drafts, notes, and duplicate materials. Make sure the retained files are intelligible and usable.
  • File outgoing correspondence by date. File incoming correspondence according to the main topic of discussion.
  • When removing paper files from shared storage, place an out-card with your name and date at the file location. Return the file as soon as you are finished using it and update the out-card.
  • If you modify electronic files in shared storage, save the modified version as a new document with "_Revised_yyyy-mm-dd_YourInitials" at the end of the file name.
  • Create a new file only after confirming that the topic is not already addressed in existing files.

Such rules will vary based on your office's unique recordkeeping practices and information needs.

Regardless of the precise filing methods, rules and conventions that you adopt, it is generally advised that you:

  • Avoid abbreviations or maintain a key of all abbreviations used.
  • Avoid using all capital letters.
  • Select and consistently use one standard name for each office, committee or topic.
  • Select and consistently use one standard format for dates.
  • Note and cross-reference the existence of related records stored in different locations, including paper and electronic media.

6. Ask for help when you need it.

Please contact the Archives if you need help adopting these Filing Essentials or adapting them to meet the unique needs of your office.

TOP OF PAGE

 

 

This page was last updated May 23, 2012