What is the difference between a document and a record?

A lot of you are probably thinking, wait, there’s a difference? You bet there is, and a lot of people don’t realize it.

What is the difference between a document and a record?Let’s talk about documents first. Our definition of a document is:  any piece of information, in any form, that is produced or received by an individual or an organization.

When you think of a document, you may think of hard-copy papers in hard-copy folders (in dark, dreary file rooms from the Middle Ages). Or, perhaps you think of a document as a PDF or Microsoft Word file. These are the standard documents that we’re used to dealing with, but documents actually come in many shapes, sizes, and flavors—and, as a side note, it’s actually incredibly important that you keep that in mind when running a business.

A document can be a piece of information in one of the aforementioned formats, but it can also be something less obvious like an email or a video. We bet you didn’t know that a comment thread on your business’ Facebook page is technically a document… but that’s a blog article for another day.

Some documents are transient. They arrive, they pass through the hands of whomever they need to and have served their entire purpose in this world. When and if they reach that point, they become useless and can (and should) be disposed of. However, some of them need to be stored in a document management system for use (definite or potential) at a later date.

There are lots of reasons that documents need to be held onto—tracking business activities, meeting legal requirements, general references, etc. When a document is saved, it becomes a record, and therein lies the difference between the two.

As a general rule, all records were documents at one point, but not all documents will become records. Get it? Got it? Good.


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