Organizing files and folders

The management and retrieval of files can be enhanced if you can handle them in large sets, rather than one by one. Therefore, it is important that you group your files in some logical manner. The categories chosen may reflect the way you work, your activities, procedures, thematic areas, or some sort of structural organization.

Separating your records from other materials is an important first step. The organization of your records may be based on the different types of records or the length of time for which certain kinds of records need to be kept. These groupings can be related to each other in a hierarchical or flat way, as best suits your needs. Generally, this structure should be consistent with the organization of any paper records you have (or records in other media), so that all records related to the same activity or subject, or of the same type, can be easily identified and retrieved as part of one conceptual grouping, as needed.

We recommend your organization scheme be recorded in a document that shows all the groupings of materials, describes them in a brief sentence, and indicates how they are related. In this document, which is called a classification scheme or filing plan, each grouping of records can be assigned a code or a name that should be linked to each record belonging in the same grouping no matter what the medium or location: thus, the records assigned to each grouping will share such code or name.

Identifying how long groupings of records need to be retained will facilitate their management while they are regularly needed and help ensure that records that need or merit long-term preservation are tagged early and given proper protection to ensure their survival. 

You will find it easier and more efficient to assign a retention period—the length of time you want or need to keep materials—to a grouping of materials, rather than to individual items. Trying to ensure that some things are kept as long as needed while weeding out things that are no longer needed is simply too cumbersome at the individual item level. While you may think that within a grouping some records should be kept longer than others, not only will you save time if you keep the whole grouping, but you will also have more complete information when you need to refer to the records. 

For help with setting up classification schemes and determining retention periods please contact us at universityarchives@stanford.edu.