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Rules for Alphabetic Filing

There are three types of alphabetic filing: (1) letter by letter (in which spaces between words
are disregarded), (2) word by word, and (3) unit by unit (in which every word, abbreviation, and
initial is considered a separate unit). ARMA International (formerly the Association of
Records Managers and Administrators) recommends the use of the unit-by-unit method.
The basic principles of the unit-by-unit method and the more specific rules that follow are consistent
with the ARMA standards.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Before names can be placed in alphabetic order, they must be indexed; that is,
each name must be broken down into units, and the units must be arranged in a certain sequence. Once
indexing is completed, the names can be compared unit by unit and alphabetic order can then be
established. Each of the following rules is accompanied by a chart that shows names in two ways: the
first column (headed Name) shows the full name in a standard format, that is, as it would appear in
an inside address of a letter; the remaining group of columns (headed Unit 1, Unit 2, and so on)
shows the name in an indexed format, arranged unit by unit in a sequence appropriate for
alphabetizing. Note that the “inside address” format presents the names in caps and lowercase,
with punctuation as necessary. The indexed format presents the names in all-caps because for
purposes of alphabetizing, the differences between capital and lowercase letters should
be ignored. Moreover, the indexed format ignores punctuation; it even ignores a space or a
hyphen between parts of a name. If you want to use a computer (1) to print names in alphabetic order
and (2) to insert names in inside addresses as well as ordinary text, you may have to create two name
fields—one using the standard format, the other using the indexed format—as shown in the following
charts.

Rule 1: Names of Persons
a. Treat each part of the name of a person as a separate unit, and consider the units
in this order: last name, first name or initial, and any subsequent names or initials.
Ignore any punctuation following or within an abbreviation.
b. When you are dealing with a foreign personal name and cannot distinguish the last
name from the first name, consider each part ofthe name in the order in which it is written. Naturally,
whenever you can make the distinction, consider the last name first.
c. In a name like María López y Quintana, the last name consists of three separate
words. For purposes of alphabetizing, treat these separate words as a single unit
(for example, LOPEZYQUINTANA).