Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

2.6. Tools of the analysis

ryanrori February 2, 2021

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Primary classification

Classification is a tool of analysis. It is a method of sorting information into like groups. Identifying primary classifications within each office and sorting files identified on the inventory into those primary classifications is the first step in the development of a filing system.

Primary classification describes the broadest and most fundamental distinctions to be made between the records of an office. All records are created as the result of functions and responsibilities which reflect purpose, mission, projects, activities, and programs.

The primary file classifications that are found in most offices are:

  • Administrative files — document the internal administration and operation of an office
  • Organisational files — document the relationship of an office with other offices and departments within the Organisation
  • Program files — document basic activities and programs
  • Case files — document a specific event, project, person, transaction

Just as each office is different, so may their primary file classifications differ. It is not unusual for administrative and organisational files to fall into the same primary classification. Some offices will have program files but not case files, while for others the reverse may be true. Primary file classifications should be based on the function of the office.  Remember, identifying primary classifications is only a tool.  It is not the final goal.

Secondary classification: record series 

Within the four primary classifications, files are sorted into record series. Identifying appropriate record series is the second and most important step in developing a filing system.

A record series is a group of records that are created, used and filed as a unit because they relate to a particular subject or function, result from the same activity, or have a particular physical form.

All files must be classified by record series. A paper filing system is managed on the basis of its record series, not by individual folders. Examples of common record series are: Committee Files; Personnel Files; Time Records for Classified and Professional Staff; Payroll Records for Grants/Contracts; Purchase Records — Internal; and Planning Files.

Retention schedules

A major consideration in the development of a filing system is the retention of the records. Record retention periods provide valuable clues for sorting files into the appropriate record series. Many times records with the same retention will belong to the same record series. Record retention periods are found on a Records Retention Schedule. Retention schedules clearly state how long a record must legally be kept and whether the record is archival. Retention schedules also provide guidelines for moving files to inactive storage and for purging obsolete records.

Managing correspondence and email

Although correspondence may comprise only a small percentage of the total volume of records, it poses the most problems for many offices. Correspondence consists of unique documents which are often difficult to classify. Each office may have a different attitude toward how correspondence should be filed and different requirements for retrieving information from the file system.

Correspondence may consist of incoming and/or outgoing letters and memoranda. Classically, correspondence has been filed in chronological order.  Retrieval depended on remembering the date of receipt or of transmittal. For many people this is very difficult. Information is rarely retrieved on the basis of occurrence.

Email is similar to correspondence in many ways.  Emails are sent or received based on date and time, not on content.  This is one of the characteristics that make email so difficult to manage.  Each email is different from the one sent before and will be different than the email sent after.  Managing emails by date is rarely effective. Like correspondence, it is much easier to manage emails based on content or creator.

Information is most commonly retrieved on the basis of content or creator. It is, therefore, most logical to file correspondence or email either by subject (with related information); by creator; by department from which it is received; or by department to which it is directed. It must be kept in mind that each office function is different, and it is necessary to tailor the management of correspondence files and email to respond to individual requirements.

Some offices, as a cross-reference, find it useful to file a second copy of outgoing correspondence chronologically. When following this practice, it is important to remember that this second set of correspondence is a duplicate and can be destroyed at any time.

Correspondence may be filed in paper format or kept electronically. The goal is to standardise official format. Either all correspondence within a specific record series is printed, or all correspondence within that series is maintained electronically. Any duplication, whether paper or electronic, falls under “Material That May Be Disposed Of Without A Specific Retention Period.”

At this time, email may be either printed and integrated into the paper filing system or may be kept within the email system (email client).  If maintained electronically, email should be moved from the inbox and sent into the mailbox into appropriately labelled folders.  These folder titles should match the titles used in the paper filing system.

Vital records

Vital records are recorded information, regardless of medium or format, that must be protected in case of disaster.  Major considerations in establishing a filing system are the identification and protection of vital records.

Completing the analysis

Once the analysis is complete, a filing system can be developed. A filing system should be developed on paper before it is physically implemented. Folders should be sorted, on paper, into the appropriate primary classification. Within each primary classification folders are sorted, on paper, into record series.

There are always some records that don’t fit neatly into a record series.  In many cases they are really either “Material That May Be Disposed of without a Specific Retention Period” or unsolicited material.  Neither should be included in the filing system.  Materials without a specific retention period can be destroyed or should be managed separately.  Unsolicited material can be destroyed.

In the case of electronic records – word processing or email – the records can be saved to a directory which would be the electronic equivalent of sorting the files into primary classifications.  Within each directory files can be sorted into folders which would be the same as sorting paper files into record series.


Centralised filing systems

Centralised filing places all records series in one central location in an office. It is most useful when the majority of individuals within an office require access to a majority of the files. The electronic equivalent to centralised filing would be a shared directory like an  I drive.

In a centralised file system:

  • there is greater control over the files
  • uniformity and consistency is easier to maintain
  • all important information is located in a central location
  • all information regarding a specific subject is located in a central location
  • the need for duplicate files is eliminated
  • storage of records requires less equipment and space

Decentralised filing systems

Decentralised filing physically locates record series in different places within an office. It is most useful when only one individual requires access to a specific record series. The electronic equivalent would be an individual’s access to their PC. In this case, it works only if the creator of the files is the only user of the files.

In a decentralised file system:

  • there is less chance of folders being misfiled into the wrong record series
  • limited access to a record series leads to greater security and confidentiality
  • the record series is physically located closer to the user

It is possible for an office to have both a centralised and decentralised filing system. The majority of the record series may be filed centrally, while a specific record series is located near its primary user. A centralised system should not be imposed on records accessed by one individual, nor should individuals within an office have to routinely search several physical locations to find the record they need. Remember, filing systems should reflect the function and organisation of an office.