Methodology: Documentation Planning

Step 1. Define the overall documentation topic and determine its parameters.

  • Conduct preliminary research on existing definitions and parameters.
  • Identify key stakeholders and potential members of the advisory group; establish the group when ready.
  • Draft definition of the documentation topic and its parameters.
  • Consult with subject experts, researchers, and records creators to develop and validate the definition.
  • Draft and distribute a news release announcing the project.

Step 2. Conduct background research to identify the documentary universe.

  • Identify significant developments, trends, events, functions, legislation, individuals, and organizations within the defined parameters.
  • Prepare a historical overview of the topic from secondary sources.
  • Develop a conceptual framework of the topic's structure.
  • Prepare a preliminary inventory of existing documentation.
  • Consult with subject experts, researchers, and records creators on how to organize and subdivide the topic.
  • Identify key records creators and endangered collections.

Step 3. Identify specific topics to document and the criteria for prioritizing them.

  • Develop a list of topics and subtopics in consultation with stakeholders.
  • Define criteria and method for prioritizing topics and subtopics.
  • Consult with subject experts, researchers, and records creators to refine and validate topic list and criteria.

Step 4. Assess existing documentation in relation to priorities.

Step 5. Identify and prioritize actions needed to address documentation needs.

  • Identify potential partners: records creators, experts, repositories, and sponsors.
  • Determine the steps in the documentary process.
  • Act immediately to save important and endangered records where appropriate.
  • Plan short- and long-term actions to address gaps in the documentary record.

Step 6. Prepare and distribute documentation plan.

  • Draft documentation plan or guide.
  • Review with key stakeholders for final comments.

Step 7. Survey the records (by surveying likely record holders).

  • Develop a contact list of people and organizations likely to hold historical records.
  • Develop a survey work plan.
  • Develop and test the survey instrument.
  • Conduct the survey.
  • Assess the survey results: What records were discovered? Which are historically valuable?
  • Make the survey results available.
  • Cultivate future donors of records.
  • Write archival descriptions and make them available.

Step 8. Work with the record holders to determine which records to save.

Step 9. Assist repositories in facilitating physical and intellectual access.

  • Negotiate donation and transfer from record holder to repository.
  • Facilitate arrangement and description of the records.
  • Publicize the availability of the records.

For detailed information on the documentation planning and implementation paradigm, visit:

A Manual for Documentation Planning in New York State, Pub. #74

Documentation Basics: A Guide to Planning and Managing Documentation Projects, Pub. #79