Glossary search


Broader Term: 

n. ~ 1. Any written or printed work; a writing. - 2. Information or data fixed in some media. - 3. Information or data fixed in some media, but which is not part of the official record; a nonrecord. - 4. A written or printed work of a legal or official nature that may be used as evidence or proof; a record1.


Document1 is traditionally considered to mean text fixed on paper. However, document2 includes all media and formats. Photographs, drawings, sound recordings, and videos, as well as word processing files, spreadsheets, web pages, and database reports, are now generally considered to be documents.

Like records, documents are traditionally understood to have content, context, and structure. However, the nature of those attributes may change in electronic documents. Electronic formats can present information in complex layers that are three-dimensional or have a nonlinear structure. The phrase 'four-corners document' is sometimes used to distinguish an electronic document that can be printed on paper without loss of information from more complex, three dimensional documents. Similarly, some electronic document content is not fixed, but may change over time; for example, a word processing document that pulls data from a constantly changing database. These documents are described as dynamic documents to distinguish them from traditional, fixed documents

In some contexts, document3 refers to an item that is not a record2, 3, such as drafts, duplicates of record copies, and materials not directly relating to business activities. In this sense, documents are not usually included on retention schedules and can be disposed of without authorization.

However, in other contexts, document4 is used synonymously with record2, 3. In this sense, 'record' connotes an official document, especially the final version of one created in the routine course of business with the specific purpose of keeping information for later use as evidence or proof of the thing to which it refers.

In some instances, there are clear distinctions between a document and a record. For example, in civil litigation in the United States all documents held by an organization are discoverable. However, those documents are admissible as evidence only if they fall within the definition of business record in the Federal Rules of Evidence (or state equivalent).

Document1 is often used interchangeably with 'publication', although this use has the sense of many identical copies in distribution. This use is common in state and federal depository libraries that collect government documents.

A document's content may reflect formula and conventions in its structure, including formal rules of representation, literary style, and specialized language that reflect the author's political, professional, or social cultures. A document's physical characteristics may also follow conventions relating to the medium, organization of internal elements, and presentation of the information.

A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology