Classification of Filing System | Methods, Advantages, Disadvantages

Classification of Filing System

The chief difficulty in office management is not filing but in finding. It is essential to determine the nature of each and every document, sort them on a predetermined basis and then filed. Then only a document, which is needed for reference in future can be traced out and made available. The process of sorting out the document on some definite basis is called classification of filing.

Classification can be defined as the process of selecting headings under which documents are grouped or classified on the basis of certain common characteristics before filing takes place.

We all know that the principal object of classification of files is to ensure prompt availability of information whenever it is needed. Classification aids the filing functions to attain these principal objects.

The efficiency, particularly, the accessibility of a filing system depends largely upon the care with which documents are classified. By classifying similar paper or papers belonging to a particular head or subject, office staff are able to trace out the paper or documents required at any time with minimum delay and trouble.

The office manager, while designing a plan for filing department should also evolve suitable classification system. The decision regarding classification generally depends upon the purpose for which it is required.

Direct and Indirect Classification of files

Classification systems may be either direct or indirect. Direct filing means that the documents can be stored or retrieved without reference to an index. In an indirect system, index is necessary.

Methods of Classification of files

The files can be arranged on any one or more of the following basis.

  1. Alphabetical classification.
  2. Numerical classification.
  3. Geographical classification.
  4. Subject-wise classification.
  5. Chronological classification.

1. Alphabetical Classification of filing

Alphabetical Classification of Files
Advantages and Disadvantages of Alphabetical Classification of Files

Alphabetical filing is the most widely used method. In this system of classification the papers or records are classified in accordance with the first letter of the name in alphabetical order. The Telephone Directory is a good example of such a classification.

For example, correspondence with those whose names or surnames begin with ‘A’ will be classified and arranged together. If there are several names having the same first letter the arrangement takes into account the subsequent letters also.

The main divisions of the alphabet can be further sub-divided and colour coding can be employed to facilitate selection and replacement of files. Alphabetical classification can be either by name or by subject or by geographical location.

Advantages of Alphabetical Filing

1. Most people are familiar with alphabetical filing. Hence, it is easy and simple to understand and operate.

2. It is self-indexing. No separate index is needed for alphabetical filing.

3. This system is highly elastic i.e. new headings can be introduced at any point without disturbing the classification.

4. Chances for misfiling are minimized.

5. There are useful provisions for miscellaneous papers.

Disadvantages of Alphabetical Classification

1. Alphabetical classification of filing is not always the fastest system i.e. it takes a long time to find papers in large organizations.

2. Difficulties may arise through the misspelling of names.

3. In setting up a new system, it is difficult to estimate how much space is to be allowed for each letter of the alphabet.

4. Dead files removed from the system leave gaps, which cannot be filled except by correspondence bearing the same or a very similar name.

5. If the number of records increases, extensive rearrangements of guide cards and files became necessary.

In spite of these limitations, it is the most suitable method of filing inward and outward letters and other documents, Generally, there is a separate file for each letter in alphabet. However, in small organizations two or three files are sufficient for all the 26 letters.

2. Numerical Classification of files

Numerical classification of files
Numerical classification of files – Types, Advantages, Disadvantages

Under this method, each folder or record is given a number and the files are arranged in the numerical order i.e. each customer or subject is allotted a number. All papers relating to a particular customer or supplier or subject are placed in one folder bearing its distinctive number.

Folders are arranged in the cabinet numerical sequence and guide cards are used to divide them into suitable groups of 10 or 20. Thus, if a customer, is allotted the number 14, all papers and documents connected with him will be found in folder number 14.

Index will have to be maintained to facilitate location of and reference to a particular file.

Types of Numerical Classification

Numerical classification can be further divided into various categories. Of them the following three are worth mentioning viz.,

  1. Consecutive Classification System.
  2. Dewey Decimal System.
  3. Terminal Digit System.

1. Consecutive Classification System

In this classification, folders or files are arranged in a strict numerical order from one onward. Each folder is numbered and titled by subject or name and placed at the rear (back) of the existing folders.

2. Dewey Decimal System

This system is very popular in libraries. Under this method, each digit stands for a sub-classification.

3. Terminal Digit System

Under this method, file numbers are in groups of two or three read from right to left each group representing a particular location or some other coding.

Advantages of Numerical Classification

1. Greater accuracy in filing is ensured. Hence, chances for misfiling are reduced to the minimum.

2. This system is highly flexible because it has unlimited scope for expansion.

3. There is no need for keeping miscellaneous files as in the case of alphabetical system.

4. Replacement of files shall be quicker and more certain.

5. Numbered files can be easily located.

Disadvantages of Numerical Classification

1. This system will operate efficiently only when there is an index. The index must be carefully managed and kept up-to-date.

2. Index should be referred before ascertaining the location of a file. This will cause delay in locating the files.

3. Since no miscellaneous files are kept it is not easy to arrange files for miscellaneous papers.

4. Errors in filing will result due to transposition of figures.

3. Geographical Classification

Geographical classification of files
Geographical classification of files – Advantages, Disadvantages

Under this system, files are arranged according to the location or addresses of the persons or parties to whom they relate.

The classification can be street-wise, town-wise, district-wise, state-wise or country-wise. This system will operate efficiently only when it is combined with either numerical system or alphabetical system.

This system of classification is generally followed in organizations engaged in export trade or doing business over a wide geographical area. Mail order houses, banks, insurance companies etc. also adopt this system of classification. This system is also suitable in those concerns where records are required according to the sales territory.

Advantages of Geographical Classification

1. Speedy location of files is possible.

2. It is simple to adopt.

3. Direct filing is possible.

Disadvantages of Geographical Classification

1. This system will work only when combined with alphabetical classification. Hence, it is not an independent system.

2. An index should be prepared, without index this system shall become inoperative.

3. Errors may result if the geographical knowledge of the filing clerk is poor. Hence, chances for misfiling will be more.

4. Proper training must be given to filing clerks. Otherwise, errors shall become frequent.

4. Subject-wise Classification

Subject-wise classification of files
Subject-wise classification of files – Advantages and Disadvantages

Under this system, all documents concerned with a particular subject are brought together in one file. Such document may have come from different sources and from different people.

This system is adopted only when the subject or content of a letter is more important than the name of the correspondent. Each subject matter is kept in a separate file. These files may then be arranged alphabetically, numerically or on some other basis.

For instance, separate files may be maintained for purchase quotations, purchase orders, income tax returns, traveling allowance bills and so on.

Advantages of Subject-wise Classification

1. Once the subject is known, it is very easy to trace out the required information.

2. Each subject file gives complete particulars and information on that subject.

3. There is scope for unlimited expansion.

Disadvantages of Subject-wise Classification

1. This system is not suitable for filing miscellaneous papers.

2. Its greatest drawback is that it is difficult to classify.

3. If the subject classification is not understood properly, it will become difficult to locate a document.

4. If the number of subjects is more, an elaborate index is necessary. This will make the system costly.

5. Liberal cross-references are often needed. This would make the system slow and time consuming.

5. Chronological Classification

Chronological classification of files
Chronological classification of files

Under this arrangement, records are filed in strict date order. Records like vouchers, invoices, bills etc. mostly connected with accounts are filed in this fashion. However, this system cannot be adopted independently.

The records must be classified according to their subject and may then be placed in date order inside the file related to that subject.

Merits of Chronological Filing System

Chronological filing system is good for overall classification because records may be separated month-wise. In particular, this system has the following points to its merit.

1. Speedy location of records is possible.

2. Simple to operate.

3. Less expensive because ordinary files are sufficient to preserve the records under this system.

Demerits of Chronological Filing System

1. This system is suitable only for small business enterprises.

2. This system is not useful when exact dates are not known.

3. Incoming letters are separated from outgoing replies. Hence the history of particular transaction cannot be ascertained at a glance.

Combination of Various Methods

In practice, no single filing system is particularly suitable to all offices. Hence, more than one system can be combined to obtain speed and economy. Of them the most popular and effective system is Alpha Numerical System, which is a combination of numerical as well as alphabetical classification. Under this method, records are filed in alphabetical order, but under each alphabet, there are numbered folders.

Besides, numerical-sequential classification, numerical-subject classification, alpha-numeric sequential classification etc. are also in usage.

Which filing system should be used?

So far we have discussed the merits and demerits of various filing systems. It cannot be easily demonstrated that any one filing system is better than any other, since every business must, of course, select the method or methods best suited to its particular purpose.

It is a fact that some methods, which are best for certain lines of work, would not be the best for others. It is therefore necessary that the right type of classification system be chosen. Each system should be examined with reference to certain important factors.

Leffingwell suggests 27 questions to be answered while analyzing the suitability of a particular filing system. However, these 27 factors can be grouped into six broad categories of factors. They are:

1. Convenience

Whatever system is selected, it should be convenient to the organization. Inconvenient methods should be avoided.

2. Size

The volume of transaction and the retention policy also affects the size of the filing system. If the number of records to be preserved is more, numerical systems should be used. For small concerns, alphabetical method seems to be more practical and natural because in all offices the staff members are more or less accustomed to the dictionary arrangement and grouping of words.

3. Simplicity of the filing System

Simple methods should be selected. Of the various methods, alphabetical method seems to be simpler. It is probably the best understood and perhaps is the generally used method in preference to some complex method, unless there are real advantages to be gained by adopting such a method.

4. Speed

Speed of reference is an important factor. Hence the system should be capable of locating the records as quickly as possible.

5. Elasticity

The system should be flexible enough to give scope for expansion. While considering this factor, numerical system is highly flexible than other systems.

6. Accuracy

Whatever system is selected, it should not provide for misfiling. If records are misfiled, quick location shall become impossible.