Page last updated 02/04/20

What is a "record"?

Recorded information comes in so many different forms and shapes that it's nearly impossible to get everyone to agree on a standard definition of the term "record," in the sense of "information that has been recorded."

Sometimes we recognize a record by its appearance - a legal document stamped and notarized (easy!) - and sometimes simply by its content and purpose - an online news release with embedded images and links (not-so-easy).

We assume a record should be fixed, trustworthy, authentic, and reliable; a frozen snapshot in time of an event or transaction or decision that conveys a "package" of information. But these traditional characteristics are not so easily recognized in digital records.

Whether or not we can easily identify records, we've come to rely on them heavily. To illustrate, take a quick look at a list 150 types of and synonyms for "record."


Listed here are terms frequently used (although in different ways) in archives, records management, and information technology professions. The definitions have been simplified. Links to authoritative sources for more in-depth definitions are provided below.


  • A place to store selected records of historical and enduring worth.
  • An offline or near-line repository for non-current, seldom used data.


  • Delegating items into particular groups based on similar characteristics, purpose, or value, usually within a hierarchy.
  • Assigning a level of risk associated with the sensitive content of information, such as "top secret" or "confidential."


  • Smallest meaningful units of information.
  • Information in any form on which computer programs operate.
  • Any form of information whether in paper or electronic form.


  • Final action taken on non-current records based on their appraised worth.
  • Sometimes a synonym for "disposal" which implies destruction.


  • Recorded information that can be treated as a unit and has fixed form and stable content.
  • A piece of text considered to be a single item and usually stored as a file.


  • Group of documents related by use or topic, typically housed in a folder or multiple folders.
  • In computing, a collection of data stored for use by a computer.


  • Physical or virtual container that holds documents or electronic files.
  • In computing, a directory structure or subdirectory that organizes files into groups.


  • Distinct phases of the life span of data, documents, and records, from creation to final disposition.
  • Sometimes a synonym for "retention and disposition" when used with "data" or "information."


  • Policies, rules, and activities aimed at prolonging the existence and accessibility of objects and information over time.
  • Suspension from routine disposition of records due to litigation holds, audits, investigations, and open records requests.

Retention period

  • Period of time records are kept after they're inactive or non-current, beginning at a certain cutoff date or event.
  • Sometimes called "retention requirements," as determined by legal, business, and legislative mandates.

Retention schedule

  • A catalog of commonly held records with their titles, descriptions, cutoff dates/events, and retention periods.
  • Sometimes called a "disposal schedule," it authorizes routine disposition of commonly held records.

Authoritative sources for definitions

For more in-depth definitions of these and other terms, please refer to these comprehensive glossaries and legal citations:

InterPARES Trust Terminology Database

KSU Information Technology Glossary, rev. January 2020

O.C.G.A. 50-18-91 Georgia Code State Records Management Definitions

Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology

US Federal Records Definitions (44 USC Chapter 33)

USG Records Management Glossary