Information Governance Insights: To Print or Not to Print

The Records Guru

A few years ago an Editor for a very prominent magazine was asked if they thought they would ever cease hardcopy printing and only publish an online edition. His response was that there would always be a desire for hardcopy as long as there was a Print button. He was half right with this assessment. In today’s world hardcopy magazines are becoming fewer in number but people still print things out to mark up. This isn’t a big deal when you are talking about a magazine article, but it is a nightmare when dealing with your organization’s information assets.

Understanding how to deal with electronic content correctly is key to protecting these assets and, with today’s technology, it is really quite easy to do. The challenge is changing old habits in “the way we’ve always done it!” Before we discuss how to properly work with electronic content lets talk about why we should change our business process. Information Governance is all about protecting and managing an organization’s information assets. Mishandling those assets, unintentional or not, can lead to spoliation. Spoliation “is the action of ruining or destroying something.” In a Court of Law spoliation can lead to a judgement going against you.

An example of spoliation I would wager occurs on a daily basis is someone moving an electronic file, an email for example, they have determined is a record in some matter to a central folder for safekeeping by dragging and dropping it. The issue? Dragging and dropping a file changes the underlying metadata of that file from the original state. There is metadata hidden within the file (such as the date created, author, etc.) that must be maintained in a secure, non-alterable state for a Record to be accepted in a legal sense as evidence. The short answer to this is stop doing that. The long answer is contact your technology department to move the file for you if your software doesn’t handle this process or upgrade your software so that it will.

Another practice that I regularly encounter is a file that is printed out so that someone can mark it up with revisions. In many organizations these markups are Records just as like the final product, so these drafts tend to accumulate in a folder or a box which is scanned at the end of the development process to create a massive image that is then saved as the Record file. This may not necessarily lead to spoliation, but it is certainly a waste of resources. Printing, marking up, saving, sorting, scanning and saving all of these things takes time (money) that could easily be avoided by revising the file directly in the software platform it resides in.  This saves time (money) and supports collaboration within the organization. In addition, the software handles the metadata issue to mitigate the risk of spoliation. The challenge is to get the staff used to working within the software. This can be a difficult transition, especially for those individuals that are more tactile, but the results are well worth the time to train them in the new process.

Information Governance is all about protecting and managing an organization’s information assets. Mishandling those assets, unintentional or not, can lead to spoliation.


Regardless of all efforts to change “the way it’s always been done” there will always be network share drives or some other repository for unstructured data. Here are a few suggestions to try to bring some order to your organization’s junk drawer:

  • Do not go beyond three folders deep in your file tree. Without getting too technical, every subfolder you create to store things adds characters to the path location for the file and there’s limit to how many characters in that path the search engine can look at before it gets lost and fails.
  • Keep your file names short. This links to the point about folders because the system’s “name” for any file is actually the path or location of it in the share drive. This means all those folder names come before you even get to the file name in the path string, so again a long file name can get lost to a search engine.
  • Decide on a common naming convention for departmental files. This will help to quickly identify files you search for.
    • Use a date first in YYYYMMDD format for ease of sorting.
    • Use standardized abbreviations for document types, projects, etc.

The key is to get EVERYONE doing the same thing and using your organization’s technology to keep your information assets secure, easy to find and reliably accurate. It might be a change from “the way we’ve always done it”, but this change will be worth it to everyone in the long run.

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