Alphabetical Filing Rules! And Here are Some Rules, Too

NOTE:  I’ve closed comments on this post due to the fact that it’s from 2012 and I’m tired of revisiting it.  As many commenters have pointed out, filing practices vary depending on industry and different business preferences. You should not take anything I say as iron-clad rule; it’s based solely on my own experience. Your employers will have their own way of filing. Do it the way your boss wants.  🙂

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
  • Arrrrggghh, The Boss




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.



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.


47 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:


    • This is what i was thinking also. When you learn to file in records management, you break the names and titles down into key units, then index them.
      key unit 1 unit 3
      key unit 1

      Plant Management Co. would be filed before Planters Welding.
      Nothing before something, according to the ARMA filing rules.

      • Yes, rules can vary between companies and between industries also. Some of them are quite standardized, but most independent businesses I’ve worked for simply use alpha-numeric rules.

  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

      The Beatles
      –Strawberry FIelds
      –The Octopus’s Garden

      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)
      –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:


    • Well, that’s one way to do it–as I said, however, different companies do it differently. I’ve worked for quite a few who file numbers first and don’t spell them out. Your mileage may vary, though.

      None of this post is meant to be a hard and fast ruling on anything. Though if your organization does do it this way, it’s helpful to know the rules, so thanks for posting the link. 🙂

      On Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 10:31 AM, Clerical Chick wrote:


  8. Pingback: How To Alphabetize Bookmark Folders In Safari | Tiriya4

    • Hmm, not sure. I’ve seen it both ways–some people file O’ anything first and then start with Oa, Ob, Oc, etc.

      I’m quite sure there are more up-to-date rules online; when I’m not at work I’ll have to go look them up. I’m amazed this post is still getting views!

      On Fri, Oct 14, 2016 at 11:24 AM, Clerical Chick wrote:


      • You can thank google. 🙂 I did a search and this came up. I wonder if the ‘ is treated like a space? I don’t know. I have always heard numbers, space and symbols then letters. But again, I think it goes back to “what does your office do?”

      • Yeah, that’s what I was taught (roughly). But I think you’re right. I’ve never worked in two offices that do it the same way! 😛

        On Fri, Oct 14, 2016 at 1:22 PM, Clerical Chick wrote:


  9. Ok, silly question which may have been answered, probably was. How should A&B Dynasty be filed? Do I just forget about the (&) and file such as AB Dynasty?

    • The Library of Congress rules (which I just found!), do it like this:

      16. Ampersand and other symbols. The ampersand (&) is the only symbol that has filing value. It follows spaces and precedes the lowest Arabic numeral or alphabetic character. Ignore all other symbols when filing into the shelflist.


      A. & A. Enterprises Incorporated A 99, Autobahnring München The A.A. way of life A and H Printers

      Solar engineering Solar engineering & contracting Solar engineering – 1982


      So treat it like it’s before a zero, which would go before your AB file. Ampersand, then numbers, then letters in alphabetical order.

      A&B AB Abbot Abby

      You can also treat it like the word “and” and just file it that way, but that can get confusing–I think it’s easier to file it at the beginning, as though the ampersand is a number.

      On Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 7:42 AM, Clerical Chick wrote:


    • From what I can find, yes–you would disregard the ‘s, since it’s used to denote possession, but it doesn’t alter the name. Like if you had a coworker named Todd–his name is Todd, but that Hello Kitty lunchbox is Todd’s. His name doesn’t automatically change to “Todd’s” just because he owns a silly lunchbox.

      America’s Best Eyeglasses American Eagle Overpriced Clothing

      And for a plural possessive (Children’s Club, for example), also file it as though it reads Children.

      Children’s Club Children Watch

      If it’s something like a pet store named What’s New Pussycat, then ignore the apostrophe but keep the s since it’s part of the name. So you’d read it like Whats.

      What Are You Doing Todd What’s New Pussycat

      I’d totally be tempted to ask Todd where he got that cute lunchbox, actually.

      On Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 2:00 PM, Clerical Chick wrote:


  10. What if you are filing by job site numbers, i.e. 1234, 4567, 15689 and then 6D589? Suddenly, you have a letter amidst the numbers. Would you file the lettered file after the 4 and 5 digit numbers?

    • Hmm, I’m not sure. I suppose the filing system for your company would have a rule for that–it could vary from system to system.

      If I were designing that system, I’d keep the numbers consistent and not have a random letter pop up in the middle of a job number. I’d put it at the end or beginning of the number.

      Anybody have any ideas how Susan would file these?

    • If you’re keeping track of addresses, that would probably be fine, but I would probably try to organize it a little more depending on the amount of records you have or why you’re filing them in the first place.

      For example, is it city-wide, or for a neighborhood? Are you a contractor keeping files of jobs by location? You can pretty much do it any way you want; however, it’s easier to find stuff if you’re not looking in a huge database or file cabinet where everything is just thrown in together. So if there are a lot, you’d probably want to separate them by a broader category and then go from there. Like this:

      Jobs by location:
      City A
      (You can further organize by borough and/or neighborhood if applicable)
      –1099 Main Street
      –1750 Main Street
      –11 Posh Blvd

      City B
      (If City B is small, you can just list the addresses)
      –1540 Tree Avenue
      –2800 Finnster Lane
      –3769 Hwy 8

      This is just an example, since I don’t know why you want to use house numbers, but I hope it helped. 🙂

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