Managing your Documents and Records isn't complicated but does require Planning



Welcome to Documents and Records (D&R) which is aimed at people who are new to the discipline. It is not an 'all-inclusive guide' on how to become a professional in Documents and Records Management but it will present some ideas, direction and courses of action on some of the issues you may face and present some tips and techniques to help you overcome these. If you are from a information or archive background some of these practices will be very familiar.

You may find some of the material useful in raising awareness about Documents and Records Management issues for the non-specialists in your organisation.

Documents and Records Management (DRM) is a fairly new formal discipline. Practitioners coming from a wide range of differing backgrounds and I’m well aware of the 'size of the paper mountain' a newcomer may possibly face especially if working on their own.

paper mountain

You can find help and general advice on Documents and Records Management as this site builds over time.

Essential skills include ensuring that your organisation is compliant in a practical way with all the regulation and legislation that affects its day to day business operations, staff and customers. Additional considerations range from developing 'good housekeeping' of information, documents and records to the long-term preservation (10 years plus) of electronic data, and the eventual selection of records for inclusion in the historical archive of your organisation.

If you have organisational responsibilities for documents and records you are in an interesting position in your institution which could be characterised as 'piggy-in-the-middle'.

Piggy in the Middle

With change being the norm in many organisations, as the individual with D&R responsibilities you may well become, very quickly, the one person who has an overall prospective of how your organisation actually works and consequently become a valued source of useful advice to all.

Your ultimate success will depend on convincing both:

  • Senior Management in your organisation that the job is required and worth doing well.
  • Colleagues for whom documents and records are a secondary concern to their primary business purpose, and that there are many positive benefits to their working situation of 'getting it right'.
  • Ideally Documents and Records Management policies should sit within an overall organisational Information Strategy framework and be strongly associated to its other elements for instance IT Policy and development. In practice a lot of organisations have not developed such a focused strategy.

    Much of your time in DRM will be spent on communicating, negotiating and persuading. This is not a role for the incurably reserved.

    To sum up, Documents and Records Management is inherently unglamorous but vital to the efficient running of an organisations daily operation. It is also the essential tool which underpins your organisations legal and regulatory compliance.

    A Definition of 'Document' and 'Record'

    In records management it is important to be clear about the difference between a document and a record.

    A document is any piece of written information in any form, produced or received by an organisation or person. It can include databases, website, email messages, word and excel files, letters, and memos. Some of these documents will be ephemeral or of very short-term value and should never end up in a records management system (such as invitations to lunch).

    Some documents will need to be kept as evidence of business transactions, routine activities or as a result of legal obligations, such as policy documents. These should be placed into an official filing system and at this point, they become official records. In other words, all records start off as documents, but not all documents will ultimately become records.

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    One descriptions I particularly like is:

  • A document provides information in written, printed, or electronic form.
  • A record relates to an activity or transaction that has happened in the past; it is a record of history. A record can consist of one or more documents, which all relate to a single event in time. (see below for additional descriptions and definitions .)
  • At the time, I thought a document was any old piece of paper regardless of its usefulness, and if it could be filed it should be kept for ever just in case we might need it one day (but in reality, never will). And records, where shiny black discs with a groove you placed on a turn-table positioned an arm with a needle on to hear music (now I’m showing my age).

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    One or two altervative descriptions and definitions I've come across:

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    Document Management provides the repository for business documents (Microsoft Office, CAD, PDF, and so on) as well as the organizing, displaying, classifying, access control, version control, event auditing, rendition and search services for the documents and their content.

    Records Management enables control of the complete lifecycle of content objects by associating precise retention and disposition rules with each content asset. These rules control if and when content can or must be deleted or archived on less costly storage media.

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    Refer to the Standard(s) relevant to where you are in the world, your best answers are contained there. E.g. ISO 9000:2005 (which is referenced in clause 3 of AS9100)

    3.7.2 document information (3.7.1) and its supporting medium

    3.7.6 record document (3.7.2) stating results achieved or providing evidence of activities performed

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    Documents - can be amended. (Format is a document. Filled format becomes a record)

    Records - cannot be amended (if amended it becomes manipulation)

    Note: sometimes corrections need to be made, and they are not necessarily manipulation or falsification of data. Typos, transpositions, putting the wrong value in the wrong column. Sometimes people make mistakes. At least all the ones I've ever met.

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    Not all documents are considered records, but all records can be considered as documents.

    Documents can be treated as a generic term and records as the brand name.

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    And finally I came across this simple semantic to help you remember:

  • A document says: DO
  • A record says: DONE
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