September 9, 2015

Subject vs. Case Record Categories: How are they different?

2 minute read
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One of the most important principles in record keeping is classifying information into its appropriate bucket so that it can be properly managed and disposed of. Doing this means you need to create a solid file plan which requires that you understand the two types of record categories that may exist.

All record categories can be divided into two overall types, subjects and cases. Knowing the difference between these two types is critical to information and records management.

A subject-based record category, also known as a subject file, represents information that consists of the same topic or type of document. Usually this represents an ongoing business activity that does not have an end date. Some common examples of a subject-based record category would be, accounts payable, travel, maintenance, or contracts. Each document classified as subject-based record category is managed individually based on its age and is disposed of according to the lifecycle defined for the record category.

A case-based record category, also known as a case file, represents an entity with a beginning and an end date such as a person, place, project, or organization. Some common examples of a case-based record category are employee files and client projects. Typically, some sort of event will establish the existence of a case-based record category, such as employee hire date which would result in the creation of an employee file record category for the hired employee for example. Information relating to the category will be collected until another event occurs, such as employee termination, signaling cutoff for the case. Each case file will reference a parent record category which defines the retention period from cutoff for a case file. All records classified as an individual case file must be managed as a single, consolidated unit and will therefore be disposed of at the same time.

The following table provides a good summation of the difference between case and subject record categories:

Subject Case
  • Age based Retention
  • Ongoing business activity
  • Represents on a common topic
  • Examples:
    • Accounts Payable
    • Travel
    • Maintenance
    • Contracts
  • Event-based Retention
  • Represents a single person, place, project, or organization with a beginning and an end
  • Examples:
    • Employee File
    • Client Project


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