Filing is the process of classifying, arranging, sorting, and storing records so they may be easily located and retrieved when needed.  The classification and control of records involves consideration of the basic file groups, material collection procedures, file preparation, sorting, indexing, maintenance, and cross referencing.

A uniform filing system is important for the following reasons:

  • Integrity/Continuity of Records: Records remain complete and accessible despite changes in agency organization, personnel, and records keeping technology.
  • Efficiency: Minimize time wasted searching for information.
  • Communication: A common filing language fosters cooperation in the retrieval and exchange of information throughout the agency and state government in general.
  • Records Retention and Disposition: Separates records with different retention values to assist retention and disposition activities.

Rules of filing apply to the correct applications and use of guides, folders, labels, index cards and equipment.  These elements are vital to an effective and efficient filing system and assist in the location and retrieval of records.


  1. Guides
  2. Folders
  3. Labels
  4. Rules of Filing
  5. Originator Document Stamp
  6. Charge-out Control
  7. Types of Filing Systems
  8. Classification System for Records

1. Guides

The definition of "guide" is to direct.  A guide directs the eye to a specific location within a filing system.  Guides serve the following functions:

  1. Designate the exact location of records and folders.
  2. Provide support for folders to prevent bowing and sagging.
  3. Increase the accuracy of filing and retrieving.
  4. Designate the major and minor subdivisions.
  5. Color guides display the hierarchical structure of files.
  6. The visibility of the guides provides the user with a "sense of location" as they approach the file.

2. Folders

File folders are used for two reasons:

  1. To provide housing for a group of related records so they can be retrieved easily.
  2. To protect and support the papers in an upright easy-to-retrieve manner.

3. Labels

Labels are applied to the tab of the file folder for three reasons:

  1. To identify the contents of the folder.
  2. To reinforce and strengthen the area where they are applied.
  3. To provide color-coded direction to various segments of the filing system.

4. Rules of Filing

  1. File Behind the Guide.
    1. Records and folders should always be filed behind the guide.
  2. Select the Appropriate Number of Guides.
    1. Consider the following areas when selecting the proper number of guides to be used in your filing system:
      1. Number of folders to be filed
      2. Type of records filed
      3. Activity of the records
      4. Number of records added to the system daily
      5. Volume of records per file folder
      6. Retention period for records
    2. It is important to remember that guides are an essential element in the filing and retrieving of records.  More guides should be used in a highly active file area to assist users with easier location of records. 
  3. Use of File Folders.
    1. File folders should be used to house a group of records in a filing system.
  4. Filing Within the File Folder.
    1. Records should be filed in a predetermined order to reduce the amount of time required to search for specific information.
  5. Amount of Paper in Each File Folder.
    1. No more than 3/4" of paper should be filed in an individual file folder.  The standard manila file folder is designed for 3/4" maximum capacity.
    2. Two to three lines of scoring are provided on the lower front leaf of most file folders.  This scoring allows orderly expansion of the folder without disrupting the alignment of the tabs and labels.
  6. Special File Folders.
    1. Heavy pressboard file folders or red rope pockets should be used for filing large volumes of records that cannot be separated.  The durable body and strong gusset allow for 1 to 4 inches expansion, while providing the support and protection needed.
    2. Fastener file folders may be needed to secure the records in the folder and to insure the integrity of the records.  Fastener file folders may also be used for folders that travel from the office to outside locations.
  7. Miscellaneous Folders.
    1. Miscellaneous folders are used in alphabetic filing systems to store records that contain information on a variety topics and the creation of an individual file folder is not justified.
    2. When four records pertaining to a particular topic accumulate in the miscellaneous folder, the records should be placed in an individual folder and labeled appropriately.
    3.  If a miscellaneous folder accumulates an inch or more of paper, then the following should be considered:
      1. Not enough guides are being utilized.
      2. Records that pertain to a particular topic are not being placed in individual file folders when four or more papers accumulate.
      3. A pressboard expansion folder should be used.
  8. Allow "workable space" within the filing equipment.
    1. Avoid overcrowding the files in the filing equipment.  Workable space is essential for fast and easy retrieval and filing of records.  Overcrowded filing equipment encourages the collection of files on the tops of personal work spaces and in personal files.
  9. Alphabetic Filing Rules
    1. Alphabetize by arranging files in unit-by-unit order and alphabetically within each unit.
    2. Each word, abbreviation, and initial is considered as a separate filing unit unless otherwise defined in a specific rule.
    3. Each filing unit in a filing segment is to be considered.  This includes prepositions, conjunctions, and articles.  The only exception is when the word “the” is the first filing unit in a file segment.  In this case, “the” is the last filing unit.
    4. Spell out all symbols (&, $, #) and file alphabetically.
    5. File “nothing before something.”   File single-unit segments before multiple-unit segments.
    6. Ignore all punctuation when alphabetizing.  This includes periods, commas, dashes, hyphens, apostrophes, etc.  Hyphenated words are considered one unit.
    7. Arabic and Roman numbers are filed sequentially before alphabetic characters.  All Arabic numerals precede all Roman numerals.
    8. Acronyms and radio and television stations’ call letters are filed as one unit.
    9. File under the most commonly used name or title.  Cross-reference under other names or titles that might be used in an information request.
    10. The name of state, county, city, and township governmental/political divisions are the first filing units.  The words “county,” “city,” or “department,” etc., if needed and as appropriate, are added for clarity and are considered filing units.  (For example: HEALTH, DEPARTMENT OF).

5. Originator Document Stamp

Agencies which use copy machines to reproduce documents for distribution among their staff later find those copies in several places within the agency's filing system.  This duplication adds unnecessary volume to files and often it becomes difficult to determine the location for filing the original document.

The "ORIGINATOR DOCUMENT STAMP" method will be helpful to those agencies who distribute copies of documents among their staff.  This method will aid the control of copies of documents, streamline and simplify filing and locating procedures, pinpoint responsibility for the original documents, and resolve questions on retention of the copies.  An ORIGINATOR DOCUMENT STAMP will be in this format:

ACTION COPY                  

The procedure for the ORIGINATOR DOCUMENT STAMP is as follows:

  1. All documents that originate or belong in a division of an agency are stamped in the upper right corner, using a green ink pad.
  2. The documents are stamped before copies are made, so the green inked stamp will appear black on all copies.
  3. The division will be the responsible record keeper for all documents in its files on which the stamp appears in green.  Those documents will be retained within that division's files to the end of the retention period, then disposed of in the proper manner.
  4. Documents with black stamps are copies and can be disposed of as soon as they have served their purpose.
  5. The "ORIGINATOR DOCUMENT STAMP" offers two options:
    1. READ/DESTROY :  After reading the document, the receiver may immediately dispose of it.
    2. ACTION COPY   :  The receiver should take the appropriate action.  After the copy has served its purpose, it may be disposed.
  6. Black-stamped copies will not generally be filed.  If a copy is needed again, before the end of the retention period, one may be made from the original which will be in the files.
  7. For documents leaving the office:
    1. Before the original letterhead or document is mailed, a copy will be made.
    2. That copy will be stamped with the ORIGINATOR DOCUMENT STAMP using a green ink pad.
    3. Needed reproductions for distribution will be made from the green-stamped copy.
    4. The green-stamped copy will be filed.
  8. For in-house documents:
    1. The original document will be stamped in green and copies made.
    2. The original document with the green stamp will be filed in the division, and the copies with the black stamp will be distributed.

6. Charge-out Control

Charge-out control prevents the loss of information and assures documents are returned to the file most of the time without delay and extra labor. It identifies the borrower and the location of information removed from the files.

No record or folder shall be removed from the filing system until a charge-out record has replaced the material removed. The charge-out record must include these items:

  1. The title or name of the material or folder removed.
  2. The subject matter of the record.
  3. The date of the record.
  4. The name of the borrower.
  5. The date removed from the files.

7. Types of Filing Systems

Vertical Filing Systems

Third-cut file guides and folders are used for the classification system in vertical file cabinets.

The PRIMARY INDEXING UNIT will be the subject name and numbers outlined in the Classification System for Records.  These are placed on the left-position guides only.

Subjects which do not apply to a specific office will be omitted.  Guides or folders should not be prepared for omitted subjects.

The SECONDARY INDEXING UNIT will be the record series names which are determined through the records equipment inventory.  These will be placed on the middle-position guides.

The TERTIARY INDEXING UNIT will be sub-file units within a record series.  These are the right-position folders.  All file folders should be identified and labeled by year.  Groups of folders for the current year are placed in front of those for prior years.

The use of folders and guides with the classification system is illustrated below.  A different color label will be used for each new primary indexing unit.  This color would be the same on all guides and folders until the next primary indexing unit begins.

Vertical Filing Systems

Open-Shelf Filing Systems

Open-shelf filing systems require the following file supplies:

  1. End tab folders - straight tab cut
  2. Color-coded numeric labels (0-9)  
  3. Self-adhesive folder labels with color bar

Guides may not necessary in color-coded, open-shelf filing systems because the change of colors indicates the change of subject.

The PRIMARY INDEXING UNIT uses the color-coded numeric label.

The SECONDARY INDEXING UNIT will be typed as the first line of the label.  It will be the record series name that was determined through the records inventory.

The TERTIARY INDEXING UNIT will be typed as the second line of the label.  It will be the sub-file units within a record series.

 Following is an example of a typed label:

SMITH vs. JONES, 1986

This label is read as follows:

  • 50 (LG) - Primary Indexing Unit
  • COURT CASES - Secondary Indexing Unit
  • SMITH vs. JONES - Tertiary Indexing Unit
  • 1986 - All file folders in open-shelf or vertical filing systems should be identified and labeled by year.

An example of the open-shelf filing system with the classification system is illustrated below.  ITD Records Management will assist state agencies in determining the subject classifications in which the agency's records would be located.  This will result in an individualized filing system coordinated to the statewide records management program.

Open-shelf filing system

8. Classification System for Records

ITD Records Management recommends a 31-subject classification system designed to meet the special and individual needs found within each office.

The 31 subjects of the State of ND Subject Classification System are defined below. A complete State of ND Subject Classification System with definitions and breakdowns of filing categories is also available. This classification system can be used for managing any type of record, paper or electronic.

State of ND Subject Classification System Definitions
# Code Subject Definition
01 (ACT) ACCOUNTING All functions involved in a financial transaction.
02 (ACD) ACADEMIC Information related to academic functions at a college/university.
05 (AF) AGENCY FEDERAL Information related to a federal agency (reports, data, correspondence, etc.) which are not directly related to programs administered by your office.
10 (AS) AGENCY STATE Information relating to any state agency (reports, data, correspondence, etc.) which are not directly related to programs administered by your office.
14 (AOC) ASSOCIATIONS Information concerning organizations outside of the department (Corporate data, membership rosters, institutes, trade groups).
15 (AUD) AUDITS All information related to audit projects (reports, data, correspondence, etc.).  Generally, audit information will be placed under 01 - Accounting.  Upon request, ITD Records Management will evaluate the need to place audit information under this category.
17 (BUD) BUDGETS All information related to budgeting (reports, data, correspondence, etc.).  Generally, budget information will be placed under 01 - Accounting.  Upon request, ITD Records Management will evaluate the need to place budget information under this category.
18 (CR) CIVIL RIGHTS Material relating to affirmative action, EEO, equal employment, minority businesses, and Title IV, VI, and VIII, and Americans with Disabilities Act.
19 (CF) CASE FILES Includes all records retained as case files, except legal cases.
22 (C/M) COMMITTEE/MEETINGS Committees, councils, boards, objectives, agendas, schedules, minutes, reports of and on meetings for the department/agency.
26 (COM) COMMUNICATIONS Material dealing with any form of communication the agency has with the media or public.
28 (CON) CONSULTANTS Companies, engineers, or individuals that are or have the potential of being contracted by the department.
30 (C/L/A) CONTRACTS/LEASES/AGREEMENTS Information or documents regarding office agreements, leases, and contracts.
35 (ED/T) EDUCATION/TRAINING Any information regarding education, training, seminars, etc. that an employee attends or that is sponsored by the office.
43 (EQ) EQUIPMENT Any information related to equipment actually owned or leased by the office (cameras, computers, software, copiers, typewriters).
44 (FOR) FORMS MANAGEMENT All original forms used by your agency.
45 (GC) GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE A miscellaneous category used only if records don't fall under any other category.  These should have a short life span.
47 (INS) INSURANCE Any insurance related information which pertains to the office.
50 (LG) LEGAL Any communication with the legal division or law firms.
55 (LEG) LEGISLATION Reference material on what is proposed or enacted into law (federal, state, county, township, municipal).
60 (PER) PERSONNEL Any information relating to personnel of the agency.
65 (P/P) POLICIES/PROCEDURES Guidelines on established principles and methods of operation for the office.
70 (PS) POLITICAL SUBDIVISIONS Any city, county, or township information not relating to a project file.
72 (REF) REFERENCE MATERIALS Material used for reference purposes only.
75 (SA) SAFETY/SECURITY Records relating to operating safety requirements, precautions, protection from damages, risk, injury, and reports pertaining to safety.
80 (SPS) PROGRAMS, PROJECTS AND SERVICES Programs and services not related to other categories.  Includes programs and services provided by your agency.
81 (SPR) SPECIAL PROJECTS Special projects provided by your department.  These projects are generally "one-time" and are of shorter duration than programs or services.
85 (S/D) STAFF/DIVISION/UNIT Statistical data, memos within your own staff or with other divisions within your own agency/department.  These will have a short life span.
90 (S/S/R) SURVEY/STUDY/REPORT Statistical data, comprehensive or comparative studies, and recurring reports that don't pertain to any other category.
95 (TS) TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM Material relating to airways, railways, roadways, and waterways.
97 (VI) VENDOR INFORMATION All information received from vendors for equipment not owned, leased, or used by your department.