Filing Systems

by Hettie Woehler
(last updated December 3, 2020)

Even though there are all kinds of records, and they can come in a variety of different formats, there are going to be some general rules that will apply to each and every one of them. As such, it is important that you take time to decide on the filing system that best meet your needs, before you begin to start organizing your records. Here are some brief descriptions about the different types of filing systems that you can choose from, and a quick definition of each.

  • Alphabetic. Organizes names or subjects by letters of the alphabet.
  • Alphanumeric. Stores files in alphabetical as well as numeric order.
  • Filing according to topics. These are used for a small numbers of files. Numerous topics soon pose problems as an index system will be necessary to find files.
  • Geographic systems. You could use a country as the top level folder, town for the first subcategory and, hotels as the third group in the hierarchy.
  • Numeric classifications. Use numbers to arrange files. Straight numeric systems number files consecutively in sequence. Although straight numeric filing systems are simple to use and expand, it can cause problems as the user will need to know the precise number of the file they wish to retrieve.
  • Chronologic systems. Arrange files by date. Correspondence is commonly arranged using a chronological system. For example a file named "nancy20100522" gives the person's first name and the date of the correspondence. Such a file could be filed in a subfolder called client_ payments.

But how to determine which system is right for your office? In order to determine which system is right for an office's records, four questions must be answered. Those questions are listed below, as well as a brief explanation of the question. The answer for each question is going to be up to you.

  • How are the records used or retrieved? Types of records and the usual method of retrieval may determine the filing system.
  • How many records do you have? If there are limited records, you can usually use an alphabetic filing system. Large volumes of records usually require numeric or alphanumeric systems.
  • How big is the office or agency? Large agencies, especially those with multiple branch offices, may use an alphanumeric central filing system to insure consistent filing practices throughout the agency. Larger agencies have more people filing and retrieving records which means that a logical and constant system will be necessary for fast and easy retrieval.
  • Who uses the records? The needs of the people filing and retrieving records must be considered when choosing a filing system. Together with this requirement, files must be named logically to avoid confusion.

Author Bio

Hettie Woehler

Hettie lives in Mokopane, South Africa. She writes articles for a country-wide monthly newspaper, The Vessel. She self-published a devotional book in 1993 and writes a regular column, Hettie's Chatterbox, for the S.A. Neuromuscular Foundation. ...


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