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Headshots provided by Ampersand Grey and One Shot Photography. Additional photography from Ampersand Grey and Scriptorium. 

  • Annette Wierstra

Document Management Part 2: Document Organization & File Management

Updated: Dec 17, 2019


As part of a blog series, we are discussing practical ways you can organize and control your organization's documents (See Introduction). This week we are continuing our series by looking at how we organize and store our documents.


How long do your employees spend looking for a required document? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? Half an hour? We waste a surprising amount of time looking for things that should be readily accessible. When you are storing your documents, you need to make the document findable in as little time as possible. This can be done in several ways, ideally using multiple methods.


Create a clear online filing system

You need a clear online filing system, whether it is using folders or pulling related documents into manuals. Make sure that related documents are situated together. This could be organized by department, by worksite, by equipment or activity. How you organize it will depend on how you think your team will look for it. Ultimately it doesn’t matter so much which system you choose as much as it matters that you do it consistently. For example, depending on how your name your files, you can group differently in your file system.

If you want to learn more useful file naming tips, John Espirian has a great article that digs into this even further: How to Name Files.


No matter what “logic” we apply to a filing system, it won’t make sense to everyone. Departments and individuals have different needs and approaches to how they might use and look for the same documents. But don’t worry, we can add another layer of file management support with navigational tools.


Create a Navigational Map

This map could be a table, process chart, spreadsheet, or anything with links that is overarching and connects people to the documents they need. These lists can organize file names and locations and allow for searching. within the list itself.


However, even this navigation guide can leave people lost, so the best thing to do when creating your documents is to design them for searchability.


Design documents for searchability.

If you are using online drives or software to store information, take advantage of their improving search capabilities. Use keywords in file names instead of short forms.

It is also useful to note that hyphens are better for searchability than underscores. This is because the words are treated as separate keywords instead of a long string.


Include keywords in the document header or at the bottom of the document. This works well for programs and storage systems that search within the document as well as the file names.

Some programs allow you to add keywords to the document descriptions or properties which is the best way to make your documents searchable. For example, in Google Docs you can open the “View details” (see left) and enter keywords into the document description.


You can do the same thing in Microsoft Word using the File tab (see right). Open “Properties” and look at “Advanced Properties.” Enter keywords in the Summary tab to help searchability.

Creating searchable documents is currently taking the lead on other tools and may make other forms of document organization unnecessary. This can greatly depend on where you are storing your documents. Using a project management or learning management system or cloud storage will have better built-in searchability than an internal drive. So be aware of where your organization is at with searchability. Regardless, searchability will likely become more and more prevalent for document management. Making the document easy to find through a search could save your employees a lot of time.


Now that we’ve designed our document for good management and searchability, next we’ll discuss: Controlled Document Access.


Got a question or an idea that has worked well for you? Let us know! We love to hear your successes and challenges. Want to read the whole Document Management series? Find all the articles here:



Annette has been working as a writer for nearly 25 years and an instructor for 12 years. She was inspired to write this series during some technical writing and plain language workshops. Participants kept coming up with great document management questions that led Annette to collate and organize these ideas into one spot. Special thanks to the City of Edmonton IT writing workshop participants who provided some excellent new technical ideas and expertise during workshop discussions.


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