Glossary search

fat file method


n. ~ A technique for appraising individual case files based on the notion that those relatively larger than others in the series have greater value.


The use of size to select certain files for preservation is an example of systematic sampling. The fat file method assumes that the greater the number of documents, the increased activity associated with a case, suggesting the case was of greater importance when it was current.

(Bradsher 1988, p. 109) The 'fat file' hypothesis put forth in the Massachusetts Supreme Court cases appraisal . . . suggested that the likelihood of case files having archival value increased with their size. [Citing Michael Stephen Hindus, Theodore M. Hammett, and Barbara M. Hobson, The Files of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, 1859–1959: An Analysis and a Plan for Action; A Report of the Massachusetts Judicial Records Committee of the Supreme Court, Boston, 1979 (G. K. Hall, 1980).]
(Cook 1991) As exceptional, unusual, or controversial cases almost by definition generate more correspondence than their routine counterparts, such files will be thick and thus easily identifiable even in vast series to be pulled for archival retention. Of course, not all thick files necessarily follow this pattern: it may be that someone was routinely repaying a loan in monthly payments over thirty years (thus generating a fat file of 360 receipts). The archivist will have to assess the reasons for the thickness of particular files in series where they occur to ensure that such files are indeed exceptional.