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Document Retention Guidelines: How Are Businesses to Cope?

Documentation is a living, breathing, evolving science. Each century, decade and year brings changes and new challenges in the needs for documentation and retention requirements and guidelines.

Governments, organizations and businesses struggle to keep up with the ever changing flow of paperwork. Paperless systems are implemented and fail. Pre-paperless records are left to languish. Fear of loss and over taxed workloads hinder progress as the paperless war wages with the influx of scanner systems. The looming questions of what to retain and for how long, continue to consume untold resources.

With the onset of electronic communication, even more retention is becoming necessary. Everything must be backed up from fragile devices and paper to even more fragile devices and more paper. Where do we begin to determine how to implement a system of document retention guidelines? We begin by determining the purpose for retaining each document.


With lawsuits and public scrutiny becoming increasingly popular, the need to substantiate actions with physical proof has grown dramatically. Notes and emails, which were once discarded, are now needed to prove the validity of corporate and government decisions. Subordinates should consider retaining any correspondence from superiors that may point to the rationale behind their decisions. With a simplified filing system in place this becomes an easy task.

Client Records

Many businesses base their customer retention on superior customer service. This includes maintaining easy access to copies of client records. Clients, just like the businesses that serve them, have the same problems as large corporations with document retention, and often find it simpler to request another copy of documentation from its source than to keep it on file, or to locate that file. Determining which documents are most often requested, as well as their age, will simplify the process of creating client record retention guidelines.

Financial Documentation

Financial documentation is retained for a multitude of reasons, taxes, efficiency, profitability, growth, tracking, accounting, etc. It seems obvious that these documents should be retained indefinitely; however, guidelines as to their storage location must be determined. Financial documentation must often be reassigned a new location with the passing of time. While this may seem futile, an indexing system such as The Paper Tiger document management software and filing system, utilizing both computer files and hard copies makes the process simple.


Retaining documentation for efficiency and duplication is well worth the effort. There is no need to reinvent the wheel once a system has been proven. Retention of system models should stay in place until the system is in use longer. Upon retirement, these files may be archived for historical purposes that may prove useful in future advertising. Decision should be made when files are archived as to if and when they should be destroyed.


Almost all documentation falls under the category of proving accountability. Once the purpose of accountability for each document has been determined it will be easier to decide on its association and to create a retention guideline. The value of accountability proof of many documents is not worth their retention; however, they may have many other uses.


Certain archives are kept indefinitely, while others are eventually discarded. Tax documentation is archived indefinitely because of its association with the government and financial accountability. Of course, the documentation to support all tax claims holds the same importance. Systems that have been updated may also fall into this category. Once the future pertinence of archived items has been established, retention guidelines can be set.


While many historical items may be relegated to company archives, they may still retain a certain exclusiveness. Care must be taken to preserve historical data that may prove useful to future generations. Business and organization anniversaries are good times to utilize historical data as a means of advertising. Government history is of the utmost importance, and mundane events can often give astounding insight when viewed by futuristic eyes.

Once the retention purpose for each document has been established, its retention life and location can be determined. While document retention and creation of guidelines may seem overwhelming and even futile, they can be made much easier with a computer software program combined with hard copy retention files.

An innovative indexing system such as The Paper Tiger document management software and filing system, allows companies to maintain their hard copy files and achieve near paperless efficiency, while providing the ability to adapt with the ever-evolving science of document retention.

It isn’t necessary to discard old files to implement an updated filing system. Nor is it necessary to maintain all files on computer equipment that often crashes or disintegrates. By combining today’s technology with computer indexing, a higher level of filing efficiency and document retention can be achieved.

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