File Classification

A file classification scheme (also known as a file plan) is a tool that allows for classifying, titling, accessing and retrieving records. It is presented as a hierarchical structure of classification levels and is based on the business activities that generate records in a specific organizational business setting. 

The classification levels are the degrees of specificity, with a file classification scheme usually having three major components: 

  1. broad, encompassing categories, called FUNCTIONS
  2. narrower subsets of each function, called ACTIVITIES
  3. yet narrower and more specific subsets of activities, called TRANSACTIONS

How to develop a file classification scheme

Developing a file classification scheme is the process of identifying the category or categories of business activities and the records they generate and grouping them, if applicable, to facilitate retrieval, description, control, links and also for determining their disposition and access status. The development of a file classification scheme is based on an analysis of what are the functions and activities undertaken by an organization, so in other words on an analysis of what the organization does. 

There are several reasons why it is good to group records: 

  • to keep related documents and records together; 
  • to make it easier to find the information we are looking for
  • to provide context for individual documents and records
  • to standardize titling terminology for searching
  • to help users to use the same terminology in organizing records
  • to identify the ownership or management responsibility for a group of records. 


The main responsibility for the development of a file classification scheme for records that are evidence of business activities of the United Nations lays with individual offices. ARMS can however help and if you require such assistance, please contact us. 

In order to start, an office's records management focal point should conduct an analysis of the offices' functions and activities resulting in setting up major groups - functions - and their sub-groups - activities. In doing so a variety of methods may be used, we do recommend consulting the offices' mandate, any policy document that may provide the office's terms of reference, and any available standard operating procedures. Interviews with colleagues in the office may help in an understanding of what the major tasks are performed to accomplish each of the identified functions. It is recommended to consult the existing file classification schemes in order to determine common substantive functions and re-use these structures in developing new classification schemes (e.g.  Peace Operations File Classification Scheme and Retention Schedules).