What are the Different Methods for Organizing Documents?

Patrick Roland

Organizing documents is an important aspect of running an efficient home or office. Important paperwork can become a burden when it is not properly stored, so utilizing one of the many different methods of organization can help keep a filing system running smoothly. Paper and electronic storage systems are the two most popular methods. Within each there are many opportunities to organize by alphabetical standards or by importance. In addition, there are a few rules about getting rid of documents that help keep any file organization system at a manageable level.

Documents can be organized into folders and then stored in filing cabinets.
Documents can be organized into folders and then stored in filing cabinets.

The most traditional method for organizing documents is by using physical folders and filing cabinets. This system of document management allows for large quantities of documents and paperwork to be stored. Thick cardboard folders are filled with documents and then placed within a filing cabinet. Most filing cabinets allow the folders to hang from a set of metal rails for fast movement and reorganization.

Important documents may be stored in a safety deposit box.
Important documents may be stored in a safety deposit box.

A more modern solution to keeping paperwork safe and continually available is by using computers. Whether the documents are scanned and saved online or organizing software is utilized, this helps reduce clutter. Electronically organizing documents places a digital replica of important documents either online or on a hard drive so they can be quickly accessed at any later time. This eliminates the need for storing paper files, which can take up a great amount of space in any home or office.

No matter if documents are stored electronically or in physical form, there are a few different methods that can keep the files from becoming a confusing jumble. Alphabetically sorting electronic and physical files is a simple way of organizing documents that makes them available for fast retrieval. Organizing files by category is also useful because dividing digital and paper folders into "Car," "House," "Tax," and various business categories increases efficiency. Another method is to divide physical files by importance so if documents need to be removed in case of emergency, the most necessary pieces are quickly available.

Discarding files is also a great method for organizing documents because it keeps both the electronic and physical file collection from taking up too much space. A general rule is that all tax documents should be kept at least three years. Hold onto complicated tax documents, like audit information and self-employed paperwork, for six years. Other items, however, should be kept forever, like social security cards, birth certificates and marriage certificates.

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Discussion Comments


I used to have filing cabinets filled with endless folders and papers but I have been able to turn my office into an entirely paperless operation. I got rid of anything I didn't need and scanned the rest.

As much as possible I try to get all correspondence and documents in electronic formats. I have a pretty detailed filing system within my computer but it is still much easier than dealing with a mountain of dead trees.


No matter what your system is, make sure that you have a system for organizing important documents. Pick a system and be consistent because having your documents out of order can be a huge hurdle to your business.

My parents ran a small business for a number of years but my mom was terrible at clerical work. She had a mind for business but was kind of scatterbrained. There were folders and papers strewn all over several offices. Important items would go missing because of a total lack of document organization. The business survived but they could have saved themselves a lot of headaches by using a filing system


I have a masters degree in Library Science so organizing documents is kind of my thing. A lot of people think about the Dewey decimal system when they think of organizing lots of information in one place but there are actually other cataloging systems that are used widely.

I will spare you a long boring list of them but it is worth mentioning that there is a new system that has been in the works for over a decade and will be rolled out sometime soon. It is called FRBR - Functional Reference for Bibliographic Records. It promises to expand and elaborate on all the other systems while offering new chances for research and discovery to the user. It is hard to convey how exciting this is but it might change the way we organize information forever.

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