A good file plan allows you to find what you are looking for faster while making it easier to manage the lifecycle of your records. Ideally, you will be able to identify and manage the contents of your folders without having to open and review the content of each individual file, document, or email. Defining a strong folder and file naming system creates good habits, reduces the time and effort required to manage your electronic records, and supports business continuity and compliance for the office.
A strong folder structure:
- 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 determine what it contains
- Is straightforward and quick for everyday use -- resist overcomplicating and don't add too many subfolders
Defining the Folder Structure
Find the records you are most interested in and corresponding folder structures in the different sections below.
These examples are separated by type of cut-off, which is the trigger that starts the clock for the retention to count down. Take note that there are two types 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/
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 cut-off is reached, whereupon they can then be filed by month/
The type of cut-off your records have will define the type of folder structure they require. Click on the icons below for specific folder structure examples by category or click here for the mobile- and screen reader-friendly version.
Questions? Email our resident expert on organizing electronic files, ProfFilePlan@uw.edu.
Professor FilePlan can review your drafts, answer any questions you may have and give you advice.