Would a record by any other name be just as findable?

On the website we have advice about all the tools, rules, procedures and policies for recordkeeping in your agency. The rules include recordkeeping rules (such as naming conventions) and business rules (who does what). We’ll look at business rules and some other recordkeeping rules later, but rules like naming conventions, metadata and data entry standards are critical to making records findable and also manageable. These rules are really important so we’re dedicating a whole post to them.

So, let’s go visit Padme at the Lamingtown Parks Services and Katie at Lamingtown Shire Council to find out what they did.

Naming records for findability

Padme is the Executive support and records officer for Lamingtown Parks Service. She’s already created some recordkeeping rules and updated the cheat sheets to help people know what records to save and where. But she’s also created rules around naming records and what information is included when capturing a record.

How to find a record?

Before developing the rules, she looked at the various business systems and applications and their eDRMS and how people can search for a record in each. She also thought about why people might need to find a record and how long they needed to be kept too as she also needed some information to help her manage the records.

Let’s just focus on their eDRMS examples. People can search their eDRMS by record number, title, keywords, author, file or container and various other things, but not all of these methods are created equal.

Record number is very accurate, but you need to know the number in the first place.

Same thing goes with the file or container – you need to know which file the record you want is in, but then you need to sort through all of the records in that file to find it. This can be made easier if records are titled well.

Keywords are good but their system does keyword searches in the title, notes and the content of all electronic documents so that’s going to bring back a whole lot of irrelevant results. Again it’s also relying on people including the right keywords too.

People can also search for author if they know who saved the record in the first place, but what if that person has been there for 12 years and saved 10,000 documents in that time? That’s a lot to search through and how long is that going to take?

Title search is great if the record is titled properly too. But if it is, then all of the above searches work better. You might get a lot of results but the title really helps people narrow it down more easily.

Titling, acronyms, dates and abbreviations

So whatever rules she put in place, Padme needed to make sure they helped people find what they needed. Looking at how records had been titled so far, she noticed there was inconsistencies in how dates were entered and also with acronyms and abbreviations. Here’s what she found:

  • Department was spelt dept, dept., and department.
  • Others were also using departmental acronyms – the Lamingtown Department of Transport had been written as DofT, DT, Dept of Transport, Department of Transport, Lamingtown Transport Department etc.
  • Dates were in every format known to man – 19/04/2018, April 19, 2018, 4/19/2018, 19 Apr 2018, 19 Apr 18, etc. etc.

Not very consistent or user friendly. Looks like Padme needs to set some rules around acronyms and abbreviations and dates.

She also found some records were titled really badly. She found one titled ‘Email from Joe RE Feedback’. Who’s Joe? And what feedback was he giving and about what?

Looks like Padme needs some rules around what to include in a record title  too.

The rules

Here’s what she came up with:

Records should be titled consistently to allow others to understand what the document or record is about without having to open it to read it.

They should:

  • summarises its content or topic
  • be unique to each document or record
  • not contain abbreviations other than those approved in the list*
  • only have approved acronyms in it
  • include minimal punctuation and extra words that don’t add value like as, at, the etc.
  • use the agreed date format – DD Month YYYY
  • include status of document e.g. DRAFT, SUPERSEDED etc. if required.

She also knows that some business areas have specific project and case file numbers that are needed in titles too so she included that as an optional part to the rules too.

She also created a list of approved acronyms and abbreviations that can be used – ones that are common and familiar to staff. Some of these are specific to business areas, but she’s included them as there is only a small likelihood of anyone outside of that area needing to find those records anyway and using the acronyms is easier for the business area.

Naming conventions when capturing specific record types

Katie, the Manager, Records and Information Management at Lamingtown Shire Council, has also implemented some naming rules.

When she was reviewing the Council recordkeeping system, she found inconsistencies in how people named their emails when they captured them in their eDRMS. This made it really difficult for people in her Council to find the information they needed. Pretty difficult if you have to search for multiple keywords, or different spellings of things.

So, to fix that she implemented some new rules about naming emails. Here are some examples of what she included in her naming convention rules:

When capturing an email into the eDRMS, in the title field enter ‘Email from [First Name] [Surname] from [Department] regarding [Subject of email]’.

When Katie was developing the rules, she spoke to her friend Molly at the Department of Transport, as she knew Molly had implemented rules for capturing client details.

Molly said the rules depended on the business system being used, so how the details captured varied. Most of the time they were captured as one of the following:

John Smith or SMITH John or SMITH John 01/01/1950 or John SMITH ID1234567.

She also applied similar rules to other standard records such as agendas, file notes, briefing notes, and procedures. Here’s some of those rules:

When saving the following document types, use the specific titling format

  • Agendas: ‘Agenda [name of group or subject] [meeting date as DD Month YYYY]
  • Briefing notes: ‘Briefing note to [First Name] [Surname] RE [subject]’
  • Procedures: ‘[DRAFT/CURRENT/SUPERSEDED} Procedures for {process/subject] – [Date created/last updated as DD Month YYYY]’
  • File notes: File note [subject] – [Date as DD Month YYYY if relevant to event being document]
  • Meeting reports: Meeting report [name of group and/or subject] [meeting date as DD Month YYYY]
  • Meeting minutes: Minutes [name of group or subject] [meeting date as DD Month YYYY]
  • Other: [Version type if applicable] project/communications/business plan – [name] [year if provides clarity as to when undertaken]

More information

You can find more information about business rules and naming conventions on the website. Also have a look at our advice on Find, access and use records as that has a lot of information about finding, using and reusing records, and promoting reuse of records.

You should also check out National Archives of Australia’s what’s in a name advice – they’ve created a great video about the importance of naming your records.

Remember, you can contact us via email, telephone, blog, Twitter.

Also, just like in the movies, all names, characters, places, and incidents portrayed in this blog post are fictitious and are not based on real people or incidents in any way (as far as we know)… just in case you were wondering.

And if you’re interested in the story of Lamingtown so far, you can check out the other blogs here.

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