Alphabetical Filing Rules! And Here are Some Rules, Too

As an admin, I’ve often had to do filing for the companies I’ve worked for.  Various places may have very specific rules, such as medical files, which I haven’t been privy to, or filing by number either ascending or descending.

But there are standard alphabetical systems that most people use for client files. The most common—and the easiest—is unit-to-unit, which takes each part of the header into consideration.  Generally, this process has some basic rules.

Everyone knows their alphabet, right?  If you get confused (don’t worry, it can happen after a long night!), you can sing the little song:

 

Let’s say you have some folders with these headers:

  • 88 Company LLC
  • Bob Anders Corporation
  • W. L. Logistics
  • Plant Management Co.
  • Planters Welding
  • W. W. Lampe
  • The Camdenton Association

How in the world do you file these?

Numbers go first

88 Company LLC will go first.  Don’t go by what the WORD begins with (i.e. eight, with an E).  Searchers will look for the file header itself, not some hidden message there.  So your system will start with numerical headers.

If you’re using an alphabetical system, you’ll file numbers in ascending order, that is smallest to largest, the same way you would proceed through the alphabet.

When you get to letters, initials go first within their letter designation.

W.L. Logistics and W.W. Lampe both begin with the letter W.  Which one goes first?  Well, L comes before W in the alphabet, so look at the initials first.

W.L. Logistics,

Followed by

W.W. Lampe.

If you had W.W. Logistics and W.W Lampe, then you look past the identical letters to the first different one.  Thus W.W. Lampe would go first, because La comes before Lo.  The same is true for Plant Management Company and Planters Welding.  E comes before M, so Planters Welding is first.

Got it?

If a person’s name is part of the title, use the first letter of the first name

Bob Anders Corporation would be filed under B, not A. It’s part of the title.  When someone refers to this company, they’ll say “Bob Anders Corporation,” or maybe just “Bob Anders.”

If you’re filing by the actual person’s name instead of a company, most systems will do it by the last name.  So the header would look like this:  Anders, Bob.  Then he would go under A.  Name-based files would look like this:

  • Acton, Catherine
  • Anders, Bob
  • Asshole, The Boss

NO NO JUST KIDDING DO NOT PUT THIS IN YOUR FILE SYSTEM IF YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR JOB!

Image:  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

*whew*

Ignore the article “the”

Where does The Camdenton Association go?  Not under T, although I’ve seen people do this many, many times.  File headers typically don’t begin with A or An, although technically if it’s part of the name, such as An Excellent Cupcake Baker, it would go under A.

Most systems ignore The because it’s so common.  Pretend it isn’t there, and file them under C for Camdenton.

So how should the completed file batch appear?

Like this:

  • 88 Company LLC
  • Bob Anders Corporation
  • The Camdenton Association
  • Planters Welding
  • Plant Management Co.
  • W. L. Logistics
  • W. W. Lampe

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

———-

These are very simplified rules, and no doubt your company will have its own quirks.  But the basics will usually apply, whether you’re using paper files or electronic ones.

When setting up a filing system, remember that everyone who needs to access it should know how to find whatever they need.  So keep it simple, intuitive and smart.

For more detailed information, check out this cool .pdf from the McGraw-Hill Higher Education website.

29 thoughts on “Alphabetical Filing Rules! And Here are Some Rules, Too

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  3. Plant Management and Planters Welding is actually wrong. Plant is first because it is a finished word. Space always comes before more letters.

      • there are two systems that are equally vaild: one files “letter by letter” and the other is “word by word” which always files nothing before something – so a space before more letters. Both are used by the American Library Association.

      • Oh that’s pretty cool about the space. :) I didn’t know that. Thank you for sharing!

        Every place I’ve worked does it a little bit differently–and of course, archives are something I don’t have a lot of experience with. I have a friend who is an archivist for a university library. I should ask her.

        Now I wish I’d paid more attention to the files at the British Library. The newspaper archives on microfilm were arranged by year, but I didn’t get to the other sections. I guess I’ll just have to go back and see. :)

        On Tue, Apr 12, 2016 at 11:14 PM, Clerical Chick wrote:

        >

  4. What is the rule for filing if the name is a Corporation but they also have a “Doing Business As” name? Would it be properly filed under the Corporate name or the “DBA” name?

    • I’m guessing that would depend on how your business does it–I’ve worked places that filed it under the DBA name and others that filed it under the corporate. Your mileage may vary.

      • It would normally depend on which entity is actually doing business with your company. If the agreement is with the Corporate name, file under that. Otherwise, use the DBA. Sometimes a company has business dealings with both the Corporate and the DBA entities, so they would have files for both.

  5. Hello! I’ve been scouring the web for tips on how to file. . . . I understand the basic rules but what do you do when employees go by different names due to having ethnic names? For example, Spanish names that have 2 middle names, or one of my co workers who goes by Hamdi Pesha, but whenever I do his pay stub it’s listed as Hamdi Rajdeep. Or names like: Fateh Bilal, but in some paperwork it’s: Gurfateh Singh Bilal. And then there are a TONNE of the same middle/last name (I don’t know if it’s a middle and a last name, or a 2-part last name) of “Kaur” or “Singh” etc. . . .(Also, I’ve altered the names a bit)

    • Wow, Maria, that’s a poser. Are you filing by last name, and then first then middle? Assuming these are confidential personnel files that you have in a secure cabinet, maybe the best way to do it is put their name and then their employee number on the file, if your company has them. If you don’t have employee numbers, you could use their Social Security or Tax ID number. So you’d end up with

      Garcia, Juan Pedro / 100-200-3000
      Garcia, Juan Pedro / 101-300-4000
      Garcia, Juan Pedro / 102-500-6000

      Then you can file the names alphabetically, but when you get to the ones with identical names, you sub-file by number.

      As for people going by nicknames, I would put their official name (the one on the payroll records) on their file. My paycheck has my first name, which I don’t use; everybody knows me as Liz. If you know Fateh Bilal and Gurfateh Singh Bilal are the same person, you can put all that person’s stuff in one file. It might be easier to have all official paperwork use one official name.

      I hope some of these suggestions help, Maria, or at least give you some ideas. If anyone reading this has any experience that might help Maria, please share! :)

  6. How do I alphabetize song titles? Ex: Is Billie Jean by Michael Jackson Jean Bille? or A Hard Day’s Night filed Hard Day’s Night, A? If I file a song by the rules of not using “the” it becomes a different song. For example, a song called The Blood is different than the song Blood. Please help. Thx

    • If it were just a bunch of random songs, I’d just file the titles by their names as they are. More than one song by different artists — I’d probably sort the whole thing by artist and then make subfiles of the songs. For example, I’d have a folder titled Michael Jackson, with the songs inside it like this:

      Michael Jackson
      –BIllie Jean
      –Off the Wall
      –Smooth Criminal
      –Thriller

      The Beatles
      –Help!
      –Strawberry FIelds
      –The Octopus’s Garden
      –Yesterday

      That’s the way my Windows library arranges them, and it makes sense to me.

      Of course if you have albums, like I do in my digital collection, the artists are alphabetized and then each album is alphabetized. The songs in each album are just the way they came on it already.

      Ludovico Einaudi
      (and inside his folder, these albums)
      –Divinire
      –Nightbook
      –Uno mattina
      –Track 1
      –Track 2
      etc., etc.

      It’s your music, though, so you can arrange it any way you like. :)

      • Ah, okay! In that case, if you typically ask them to grab a particular song, I’d arrange by title as is. You can always rearrange stuff to suit.

        On Sun, Mar 20, 2016 at 11:16 AM, Clerical Chick wrote:

        >

  7. How do I file abbreviated names with regular spelled names. For example, how should P.J. Anderson be filed for say before Peter James Anderson or after? Should an abbreviated name come before or after a complete spelled name?

    • Allyson, the companies I’ve worked for would always file it like:

      Anderson, P.J. Anderson, Peter James

      Initials came before words. But your mileage may vary. If it’s just for your personal files, you can do it any way you like. Or your company may do it differently.

      Of course, you’d want to check that you didn’t have two files for the same person. We used to find dupes all the time at one job and I would have to consolidate them. Which was annoying–I was always like, “Just look to see if there’s already a file in there!”

      On Sat, May 21, 2016 at 12:09 PM, Clerical Chick wrote:

      >

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