Document Filing Methods

A filing cabinet is typical equipment used for storing paper documents.
A filing cabinet is typical equipment used for storing paper documents. (Image: Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Although computers have made office work more efficient, and can store and manage digital records, they seem to have done little to stem the tide of paperwork. The average office still suffers from the flood of hard documentation, which can consist of receipts, purchase orders, customer letters, vendor proposals, contracts and technical manuals. A workable filing system can make these documents easy to access and store.


Plan your filing system by determining the kinds of records your business generates, their sizes, how often they are used and the type of workers who need access to them. For example, your customer receipts may only take up one piece of paper, but may be needed by your customer service department to determine whether merchandise returns are valid. A catalog may run to several pages but may be accessed whenever a salesperson receives a call, to determine the availability of a product. Your filing equipment is also important to planning, and may consist of such items as labels, folders, suspension files and archive boxes.

Filing Procedures

Filing records is a multi-step process that begins with inspecting a document to determine if it should be filed at a particular time. The document is labeled to ensure it is stored in the correct location. Sorting arranges several documents in a determined order to make it easier to store. Finally, filing actual places the document in a folder, which is then kept in a drawer, according to the filing plan. Labels for such folders must face the user when he opens a drawer, to make it easier to locate a particular piece of paper.

Alphabetic and Numerical Methods

The different ways of arranging files have advantages and disadvantages, so you may end up with a combination of methods. Alphabetical filing groups records by the titles of the document. Such titles may depend on business names, or the last names of individuals, and are used in ascending order from A to Z. This method is easily expandable, but suffers from an uneven distribution of letter use. In addition, two different records may have the same designation. Numerical filing systems ensure that each record is unique by using a pre-defined sequence of numerals to identify each document. This makes access faster than with alphabetic systems, but requires an indexing system because people do not recognize numbers as easily as they do names.

Geographic, Subject and Chronological

Geographic systems store records according to location, and make compiling statistics by location easier. Because rules and regulations often differ by area, this system enables filers to instantly decide what laws apply to what records. Subject filing keeps records by a descriptive feature, and can put documents of different types in the same folder. However, it demands that the planner know the business thoroughly, so she can create folders for all the subjects related to it. Chronological filing keeps records by date, making it easy to access records on a cyclical basis, such as when licensing cars on the same date every year. But it is time-consuming to retrieve such records, because people do not usually store or recall information in date order. Thus, indexing is needed.

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