Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a "record copy" and who is responsible for it?
- Should I handle electronic documents differently than paper documents?
- How should I organize the files that I need to keep?
- What should I include in a file name?
- What's the advantage of adding metadata (filling out the "properties") of a file?
- What electronic files should I keep?
- How long should I keep them?
"A record copy is the official copy of a record that is retained for legal, operational, or historical purposes."- ARMA, Guidelines for Managing Email.
While there may be many copies of a document, the record copy is the official copy. For example, although committee members may receive reports and meeting minutes while on a committee, it is the chair or other designated employee that maintains the official record copy of the documents that group creates. It is this record which must be preserved as a University record. The copies circulated to other committee members are reference copies and should be destroyed once the member is no longer on the committee.
Electronic files should be managed by their content, not their format. Whether or not you keep a file depends on its value, subject, and function. Although the fact that the record is in an electronic format does not affect how long you retain the file, you should be aware of issues with maintaining access to electronic files over time.
Electronic files are particularly fragile due to hardware and software obsolescence, unstable media formats, and the ease with which files can be erased either knowingly or unknowingly. A consistent backup plan is essential to the preservation of digital materials. Long term preservation requires migration across software versions and media formats. For more information on file retention and deletion consult Records Management's Records Retention Guide.
A good file folder structure is a structure that helps you keep, find and contextualize materials.
When choosing a folder title, it is important to use a name that accurately describes the documents you will file there (example: "travel requests and reimbursements FY 2006/2007"). Try to use consistent spelling and vocabulary that others can interpret if they need to. Avoid using obscure acronyms and abbreviations when possible. Check that your categories do not overlap.
Most people find a multiple level system of folders and subfolders useful. To the extent possible, folders at a given level should not be overlapping and they should relate to the nature of documents created and your records retention schedule when possible. For example: your main folder may be Course Evaluations, with subfolders of Course Evaluations Fall 2005, Course Evaluations Spring 2006, etc.
If files are being stored on a shared network server, organization schemes and folder titles should be set up in consultation with system administrators and others accessing the network.
A file should be named according to its content. It should also include any revision or version dates and author identification if it's a file that has had multiple authors contributing to it. For example: Annual Report 11_01_05 Jane.
File name and folder structure often can work together to provide the context for a document. For example, a document may be housed within a folder structure such as Applications > subfolder 2004 > Jane Doe. While the file name only provides you with the information that the file is about Jane Doe, the structure tells you that the file is also an application from 2004. When sharing or printing this file, it might be a good idea to include this information that the folder structure provides.
Do you have any suggestions for sharing documents and organizing shared file space?
If files are being stored on a shared network server, organization schemes and folder titles should be set up in consultation with system administrators and others accessing the network. All members of your group should agree to standard filing and naming structures for documents and folders
Adding information to the properties field, such as author name and description, can be useful for providing contextual information for the document. This can help the document's creator or users understand the document in the future.
The Records Retention Guide can assist you in determining which files are important to keep and for how long. Remember that content, not format, determines record retention. Contact Records Management for more information.
There may be electronic files that are not listed on your schedule that you may want to keep, such as personal correspondence or scholarly publications. These files should be maintained in an organized fashion and should be deleted when they are no longer needed.
University employees should be aware of their responsibility to keep documents throughout their established retention period, in accordance with the approved records retention schedule.
Files have different values based on the content of the document. With the popularity of high-capacity storage systems, users may feel inclined to store all their documents indefinitely. It is incumbent on University employees, however, to evaluate the value of their files on an on-going basis and retain files only for their established retention periods.