Filing System Characteristics

Before choosing an appropriate filing classification system, identify the information needs of your office.  There are three basic systems:

  • Alphabetic: Alphabetic classification is used to file records by person names, businesses, institutions, government agencies, subjects, topics, or geographic locations, all according to the sequence of letters of the alphabet. 2
  • Numeric:  Numeric filing systems arrange records by number. It is an indirect access system because an index to the files must be used to retrieve information.
  • Alphanumeric: Alphanumeric systems use a combination of subject and numbers.2

Within these three systems, you can apply a number of variations to suit the needs of your office.

Because each system has certain advantages and disadvantages, the first step in selecting an appropriate system is to examine your office’s record-keeping practices by asking these four questions.

How are records are used or called for?

The nature of the records and how they will be requested should be the first determining factor in your selection of the system. For example, if vendor files are referenced by name, alphabetic arrangement is indicated; invoices called for by number will best be filed in a numeric system; correspondence, if retrieved by subject, should be filed alphabetically by subject.

How many records are maintained?

If your volume of records is small, an alphabetic system is usually adequate; however, in an office where the filing system needs to be expandable, a better choice may be a numeric or alpha numeric system.

What is the size of your office?

The size of your office usually dictates the number of individuals responsible for the filing records, as well as those who are authorized to access files. Although there are exceptions, generally the larger the office, the greater the number of people who will process and use the records.

Who uses the records?

Your filing system should be appropriate to the people using the records. A subject classification system may be more useful for records that are best defined by specialized topics, whereas records that fall into easily identified groups and are accessed by many employees are better arranged by number.

Related Information

View Selecting a File System for College Records.

1 Texas State Library, Local Records Division, The Local Record, Summer 1990.
2 Texas State Library, Local Records Division, The Local Record, Spring 1991.

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