A strong folder structure meets the following four requirements:

  • Groups together records by function, such as putting all your contracts or grant records in one location
  • Groups together records by cutoff and retention period for easy deletion at the end of the retention period -- don't mix your 1-year and 6-year records
  • Allows for easy identification of individual records without having to open each file to figure out what it is
  • Is straightforward and quick for everyday use -- resist overcomplicating and don't add too many subfolders

There are two categories of cut-offs for records:



Fixed in time: There are some records that calculate their retention period from the date of creation or some fixed cyclical period (e.g. month, quarter, calendar year, academic year, fiscal year, etc.). These records can be filed by month/quarter/year straightaway because the cutoff date is already known and the full retention period can be calculated from the instant they are created or received.

Event based: These records calculate their retention period based on an event that will happen in the future. At the moment a record is first created, the date that a student will graduate or that an employee will separate from a department is unknown. These records must reside in an "active" repository up until the point the cutoff is reached, whereupon they can then be filed by month/quarter/year.


The following are examples of types of records. If you are unsure about how your records fit in, contact us.




Fixed in time


Event based

Student Records

  •  Placement exams
    •  2020
      •  Marcela Garces
      •  Latosha Allen
    •  2019
  •  Change of Major Forms
    •  Active
      •  Jess Marillo
      •  Diane Yee
    •  Graduated
      •  2020
        •  Faraj Modestas

Note in this case Placement Exams have a retention of 1 year after end of calendar year, as soon as they are created they can be filed for retention purposes.

Change of Major Forms have a retention of 1 year after the student has graduated. These records are considered "active" until the student graduates, at which point they can be moved to year graduated. They should then be deleted a year later.

Financial Records

  •  Requests for Moving Expenses
    •  2020
      •  Alissa Goodroe
      •  John Lovell
    •  2019
    •  2018
    •  2017
  •  State Audit Reports
    •  Open
      •  Audit of Culinary History Program
    •  Completed
      •  2020
        •  Audit of Economics of Food Program
      •  2019

Note that Requests for Moving Expenses have a retention of 6 years after the end of the fiscal year. In this structure, it's easy to see what should be deleted as soon as 6 years have passed.

Audit reports by State Auditors have a retention of 6 years after the resolution of audit issues. Since one cannot know when issues will be resolved, the records wait in the "Open" folder until a resolution, then are moved to the appropriate year folder to be deleted 6 years later.

Grant/Research Records

  •  Research Records
    •  Open studies
      •  Humpback Whale Population
      •  Columbia River Salmon
    •  Closed studies
      •  2020
        •  Chinese Paddlefish Extinction
      •  2019
      •  2018

We have not included a fixed in time example here, because grant-related records have event triggered cut-offs (typically, after the submission of an annual financial status report.

Research Records and Data get retained for 6 years after the close of the study. Therefore, they wait in the "Open studies" folder until they close, at which point they get moved to the appropriate year folder under "Closed studies" until they are deleted after 6 years.


In addition to the folders outlined above, subfolders can be added as needed to organize your work in a way that makes sense given your office’s workflows. For example, depending on the size of your office and the volume of records you have, you may want to add a series of subfolders to your Personnel Files to separate out employees by type (e.g., tenured faculty, pro staff, classified staff, student employees, etc.). And unless your office only has a single budget, you’ll likely want to add separate subfolders in your financial records for individual budget numbers. For other types of records, there are probably additional categories and identifiers that would be useful to call out; don’t be afraid to add to or change the wording in these examples to fit your needs.

Also consider file naming conventions to boost recognition and manage version control. The important thing to remember is that no amount of organization is worth anything unless the system helps users and is easy to work in. Avoid the temptation of building in unnecessary complexity.

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