September 26, 2019

Creating a Framework for Classification

3 minute read

This is Part 2 in a series about creating and executing an effective file plan for your organization. Click here to read the previous post: Creating a Retention Schedule that Works.

So far, we have built the foundation of a file plan that works through creating retention schedules. In this post, we will focus on creating classifications for your file plans. A classification is the framework for how records are categorized in their appropriate buckets to ensure efficient retrieval and proper disposal. As we create a solid file plan, we must understand the types of record categories that exist: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary.

Primary Classification

Primary classifications, or “record classes,” describe the broadest and most basic distinctions made between an organization's records and reflect purpose, mission, project, activities, and programs. We recommend a functional file plan, so primary classifications should be at the highest level with the focus being on the function of the department. For instance, this could be financial, legal, administrative, or even a customer relationship.

Identifying the differing primary classifications within each department and sorting records is an important step in the development of a file plan. For example, sales figures and payroll records both deal with money, but may be under different departments. Inversely, administrative and organizational files may fall into the same classification. Remember the goal is to use primary classifications as a tool to base records on their function in an organization, so you have a broader understanding moving forward.

Secondary Classification

After determining the primary classifications, we need to dive deeper at a more granular level to Secondary Classifications, also known as a “record series.” Secondary classifications are treated as one unit based on the primary classification they belong to. To keep the file plan simple, all files must be classified by record series and not as individual folders. Examples of common record series are: Personal Files, Payroll Records, Accounts Payable, Purchase Records, and Planning Files. See the example below:


Tertiary Classification

Creating tertiary classifications is optional, but the decision to include them will depend on the organization’s structure and preference. Classifying records to a third level makes things a bit more complex, but it is not an invalid approach when accommodating policy differences. If your organization decides to include tertiary classifications, remember the overall goal of keeping the file plan as simple as possible.


After the classifications are created, we must start the review process again. This will be no different from the reviews beforehand, so make sure all key stakeholders are included, have a firm deadline, and gather all notes and changes that can be made. Once the first round of reviews is complete, the record manager should set up a more detailed review with the compliance team before bringing the classification system to C-level for approval.

Next Steps

Remember, the most efficient file plan is simple and is easily understood by its users, which I will stress as we move through this series. At this point we have laid the foundation in creating a retention schedule and developed the framework by dividing records into their classifications. In our next post we will discuss how to determine record types.

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