Types of Filing Systems (Pros and Cons)

Various filing systems exist to ease the retrieval of information in an office. The success of a filing system will depend on specific aspects of an organization like its size,  the nature of documents, and the validity and reliability of the collected information. Despite the considerations, you can choose from several types of filing systems.

The three basic types of filing systems include alphabetic, numeric, and alphanumeric systems. Each filing system has its pros and cons. So you should assess your offices’ record-keeping characteristics before settling on a filing system.  

Whereas an alphabetic filing system can be simple to understand and operate, a significant amount of time is lost in finding papers. Similarly, numeric and alphanumeric filing systems have their pros and cons. We will come back to them later in this article.

Right now, I will give you tips for categorizing the office filing systems. If you are having a difficult time with your office documents, sit tight and follow along. I have also provided an office filing system template to make your work easier.

How do you categorize office filing system

A powerful document management system allows easy integration and addition of new files as your company grows. It should be simple to understand and operate. You can categorize office filing systems depending on your offices’ needs and characteristics. The method you use to categorize files should make them easy and quick to find.

There are two main ways I categorize office filing systems. First, I use color coding for both digital and physical documents. Secondly, I categorize them digitally. These two ways have proven essential for quick and easy retrieval of documents. They have reduced the time it takes me to find information to under 30 seconds.

Even with a complex filing system in place, color coding is cheap, quick, and easy to pull off. Color codes apply not only to physical but also to digital files. Ordering piles of documents with colors corresponding to particular subjects simplifies classification.

For example, you can use red, yellow, and green for categories such as human resources, financial, and contracts, respectively. Color coding makes it easy for the brain to sort through large chunks of information when looking for something specific.

Another way you can categorize office filing systems is by digitizing your files. It is essential for searching and locating specific documents within hundreds or thousands of files and folders. However, it can be labor-intensive and time-consuming to scan old files to create a new paperless filing system.

However, there are other ways to categorize office filing systems. You should plan to organize the files regularly. Organize physical files on the walls by categories, e.g., invoices, receipts, reimbursement requests, etc. Most importantly, categorize files and folders by their importance to make retrieval enjoyable for everyone.

Here is an example of an office filing system template.

Primary classificationSecondary classification
FinanceSavingsTax documentsCharityPension
CertificatesBirth certificatesMarriage certificatesDeath certificatesDrivers licensesPassports

Types of Filing Systems (+Pros and Cons)

Three filing systems exist. They depend on the information being filed and classified. You can logically arrange documents alphabetically, numerically, or alphanumerically.  I recommend alphabets for small offices with few operations. Otherwise, large companies can be complicated and require all three filing systems.

Alphabetic filing system

You can organize several things in an office alphabetically. Names of people, institutions, or projects. Although this can be tedious if you use drawers and file cabinets, arranging digital documents alphabetically can be relatively easier. You just have to select the list in question and sort the text by ascending order (A to Z).

There are two ways to file documents alphabetically. You can choose to use the dictionary or the encyclopedia format. The former groups file alphabetically regardless of their type or content. On the other hand, an encyclopedia format is where you categorize everything by subject first, then group the items within each of them alphabetically.

However, there are rules to follow when filing documents alphabetically. For instance, always alphabetize the first letter of people’s last names. For example, Douglas Asimov comes before Isaac Adams because alphabetically, “D” comes before “I.” It is a quick way to store, find, and manage private and office files.

Whichever indexing method you choose, ensure consistency.

Pros of alphabetic filing system

  • Simple to use and understand
  • Highly flexible as it allows the introduction of new file names without affecting the existing classification
  • It offers convenience since you can group papers by company names.

Cons of alphabetic filing system

  • Locating papers in a drawer or a cabinet takes time and may disturb the speed of a company’s operations.
  • It increases the likelihood of congestion and confusion due to repeated filing of the same document.
  • If you misspell a file name, locating it in an alphabet filing system can be difficult.

Numerical filing system

Numbers are the primary means of numerical filing systems. Numbering begins from one and continues by consistent units. The three numerical filing systems you can use in your office include consecutive numbering, the Dewey decimal system, and the terminal digit system.

As the name suggests, consecutive filing classification follows a strict order. The files and folders in this system are arranged from one, and they increase onward by one unit. You can categorize the existing folders in a consecutive classification system either by subject or name.

The Dewey decimal system is essential for libraries. What is important to note in this filing system is that each digit in, say 123.56, stands for one classification. It means you order the documents by discipline or field of study. Numbers on the right side of the decimal point give more detail about the arrangement of the items on the shelf.

The third numerical filing system is the terminal digit system. The system is essential for expediting reference and facilitating the transfer of old documents. If your office deals with orders and sales invoices, you should use the terminal digit filing system. The numbers are divided into three parts in this system, but only the last two digits are used to file documents together.

Pros of numerical filing system

  • Easy to understand
  • Easy to locate numbered files
  • Flexibility allows expansion of files
  • You can refer to a particular file number in the future
  • Reveals essential information such as the total number of files in a folder.

Cons of numerical filing system

  • Indexing and locating a specific file can be time-consuming
  • The numerical filing system is expensive
  • Miscellaneous documents are difficult to arrange
  • Duplication of information can occur

Alphanumeric filing system

An alphanumeric filing system can be challenging as it uses letters and digits to categorize documents. However, this filing system represents a concept. In alphanumeric filing systems, you use most of the keyboard characters. It is essential for digital information filing since it includes blanks and spaces in classification.

An alphanumeric filing system mixes letters, numbers, and common mathematical symbols to make file names. Including the numbers 0 to 9 and A to Z in Arabic and Latin, all in their uppercase and lowercase dimensions. For example, 7, 6, j, h,m, p, and 10 are alphanumeric characters, including *, &, and @.

Nevertheless, you must follow certain rules in an alphanumeric filing system. Whether you categorize your files and folders in ascending or descending order, Arabic numbers must come before Latin numbers. Additionally, you must organize letters in the file name in a similar way.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of the alphanumeric filing system.

Pros of alphanumeric filing system

  • It is very elastic and offers unlimited possibilities for expansion.
  • Provides a quick reference for documents and files
  • It eliminates the possibility of file name duplication

Cons of alphanumeric filing systems

  • Not suitable for a large organization
  • Tedious for cabinet and drawer filing. It works best with computer files
  • You can lose your files or store them incorrectly

Sources and references

Austin Community College (ACC). Filing System Characteristics.

Dartmouth College. How Should You Manage Files In Your Office – Six Concepts.

The Government of Bahamas. The Filing System in The Public Service.

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