Alphabetizing suggestions

Question: We are discussing how to alphabetize our file folders, and our problem is twofold: First, some people are good about putting files away as soon as they’re done with them; others just toss them anywhere until it becomes an all-day project for someone (usually one of the two administrative assistants in the office).

Second, not everyone agrees on “rules” to follow. Should “The John Smith Company” be filed under “J” or “S”? We’re a fairly small office (20 total) that has grown significantly over the past few years. When there were fewer people, everyone knew that if you needed to find the “XYZ Corporation’s” folder, it might be under “Bob Jones,” because he owned it!! We’re trying to convince people that newbies can’t be expected to know that.

Any help or ideas would be appreciated. — MK, Massachusetts


You should always alphabetize a company that contains a person’s name as though it were a name. In your example, it should be filed under “S”. Companies who operate under acronyms (IBM) should actually be filed under the business name (International Business Machines).

I totally agree with Marie. This is the proper way to file documents. Never by the first name. This way anyone in the office should be able to find a file. As to your first problem of people not returning files promptly, you probably can’t get them to refile them but we have found that it is more efficient for us to have the admin staff refile so that they are done correctly. We have kept a basket on our main desk for people to return the files to and make it part of the end of day routing to refile and then lock our cabinets. Even though it is more work for the admins it makes it much easier to find properly filed documents.

I agree with filing as if it were a person’s name but for businesses that go by acronyms I suggest that you file them as you would find them in the telephone directory. Business names that are commonly known by their initials would all be listed in the beginning of the section (this will help those who just don’t know or remember the official name). The telephone directory will make for easy reference when in doubt.

Someone needs to set a policy on this that everyone will have to follow. The department head, or the person in charge of the office perhaps. This is an organization problem that will only grow as your company grows. Nip it now, or it will get worse. As for these two situations, I agree with Celeste. Most people know IBM, not International Business Machines and will therefore look for IBM files. I’m sure there is a book on filing standards you could purchase to help set the guidelines for your office.

I belong to an organization that published a book called, “File It Right and Find It” and it is great help for any office or growing company to begin setting up their files. The name of the organization is NAEOP which stands for National Association of Educational Office Professionals and their website is

To go another step in helping “newbies” I set up a rolodex system that matches the filing system so that when someone takes out a file, they need to re-file it back before the day is over which helps in files “disappearing.” This step has really helped people (even new ones) in finding files and re-filing.

I also agree with the previous comments regarding filing by last name or company acronyms such as IBM.

Linda has the right idea. You can go an extra step and Cross Index (file by International Business Machines and place empty folder in file titled IBM – with document inside that says simply, See International Business Machines).

Some people are just resistant to PROCEDURE and some are too rushed or (sorry) lazy. The basket works for those people. I have one.

Concerning removing files and replacing them in the correct place… I made several place card holders on brightly colored card stock – about 3″ x 11″ with the title “File Out” followed by several “Name” and “File Name” sections. Keep several of these on top of the file cabinet. When someone removes a folder, they are to put their name and the name of the folder they are taking on the card. Then the place holder goes where the folder used to be. This serves two purposes: (1) When they return the folder they don’t have to search too hard or remember their alphabet to see where it goes and (2) If someone else is searching for the folder, they can see who has it. When the folder is returned, the person removes the place holder and crosses their name and folder name off, and returns the place holder to the top of the cabinet. (This has also worked for books in our office library.)