1912 Birth Certificate Ken Baker.jpg
Restraining Order.jpg
Wachovia National Bank 1906 statement.jpg
Several common types of documents: a birth certificate, a legal document (a restraining order), and a bank statement.

A document is a written, drawn, presented, or memorialized representation of thought. The word originates from the Latin documentum, which denotes a "teaching" or "lesson": the verb doce? denotes "to teach". In the past the word was usually used to denote a written proof useful as evidence of a truth or fact. In the computer age, "document" usually denotes a primarily textual computer file, including its structure and format, e. g. fonts, colors, and images. Contemporarily, "document" is not defined by its transmission medium, e. g., paper, given the existence of electronic documents. "Documentation" is distinct because it has more denotations than "document". Documents are also distinguished from "realia", which are 3 dimensional objects that would otherwise satisfy the definition of "document" because they memorialize or represent thought; documents are considered more as 2 dimensional representations.

Abstract definitions

The concept of "document" has been defined[by whom?] as "any concrete or symbolic indication, preserved or recorded, for reconstructing or for proving a phenomenon, whether physical or mental."[1]

An often cited article concludes that "the evolving notion of document among Jonathan Priest, Otlet, Briet, Schürmeyer, and the other documentalists increasingly emphasized whatever functioned as a document rather than traditional physical forms of documents. The shift to digital technology would seem to make this distinction even more important. Levy's thoughtful analyses have shown that an emphasis on the technology of digital documents has impeded our understanding of digital documents as documents (e. g., Levy, 1994[2]). A conventional document, such as a mail message or a technical report, exists physically in digital technology as a string of bits, as does everything else in a digital environment. As an object of study, it has been made into a document. It has become physical evidence by those who study it

"Document" is defined in library and information science and documentation science as a fundamental, abstract idea: the word denotes everything that may be represented or memorialized in order to serve as evidence. The classic example provided by Suzanne Briet is an antelope: "An antelope running wild on the plains of Africa should not be considered a document[;] she rules. But if it were to be captured, taken to a zoo and made an object of study, it has been made into a document. It has become physical evidence being used by those who study it. Indeed, scholarly articles written about the antelope are secondary documents, since the antelope itself is the primary document."[3] This opinion has been interpreted as an early expression of actor-network theory.


Documents are sometimes classified as secret, private, or public. They may also be described as drafts or proofs. When a document is copied, the source is denominated the "original".

Standards are accepted for specific applications in various fields, e. g.:

Such standard documents can be drafted based on a template.


The page layout of a document is the manner in which information is graphically arranged in the space of the document, e. g., on a page. If the appearance of the document is of concern, page layout is generally the responsibility of a graphic designer. Typography concerns the design of letter and symbol forms and their physical arrangement in the document (see typesetting). Information design concerns the effective communication of information, especially in industrial documents and public signs. Simple textual documents may not require visual design and may be drafted only by an author, clerk, or transcriber. Forms may require a visual design for their initial fields, but not to complete the forms.


A birth certificate from 1859.

Traditionally, the medium of a document was paper and the information was applied to it in ink, either by hand writing (to make a manuscript) or by mechanical process (e. g., a printing press or laser printer). Today, short documents also may consist of sheets of paper stapled together.

Historically, documents were inscribed with ink on papyrus (starting in ancient Egypt) or parchment; scratched as runes or carved on stone using a sharp apparatus, e. g., the Tablets of Stone described in the Bible; stamped or incised in clay and then baked to make clay tablets, e. g., in the Sumerian and other Mesopotamian civilizations. The papyrus or parchment was often rolled into a scroll or cut into sheets and bound into a codex (book).

Contemporary electronic means of memorializing and displaying documents include:

Digital documents usually require a specific file format in order to be presentable in a specific medium.

In law

Documents in all forms frequently serve as material evidence in criminal and civil proceedings. The forensic analysis of such a document is within the scope of questioned document examination. For the purpose of cataloging and managing the large number of documents that may be produced during litigation, Bates numbering is often applied to all documents in the lawsuit so that each document has a unique, arbitrary, identification number.

See also


  1. ^ Briet. 1951. 7. Quoted in Buckland, 1991.
  2. ^ Levy, D. M. "Fixed or Fluid? Document Stability and New Media." 1994. In European Conference on Hypertext Technology 1994 Proceedings, pp. 24-31. New York: Association for Computing Machinery. Retrieved 18 October 2011 from
  3. ^ Buckland, M. "What Is a Digital Document?" 1998. In Document Numérique Paris. 2(2). [1].

Further reading

  • Briet, S. (1951). Qu'est-ce que la documentation? Paris: Documentaires Industrielles et Techniques.
  • Buckland, M. (1991). Information and information systems. New York: Greenwood Press.
  • Frohmann, Bernd (2009). Revisiting "what is a document?", Journal of Documentation, 65(2), 291-303.
  • Hjerppe, R. (1994). A framework for the description of generalized documents. Advances in Knowledge Organization, 4, 173-180.
  • Houser, L. (1986). Documents: The domain of library and information science. Library and Information Science Research, 8, 163-188.
  • Larsen, P.S. (1999). Books and bytes: Preserving documents for posterity. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(11), 1020-1027.
  • Lund, N. W. (2008). Document theory. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 43, 399-432.
  • Riles, A. (Ed.) (2006). Documents: Artifacts of Modern Knowledge. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI.
  • Schamber, L. (1996). What is a document? Rethinking the concept in uneasy times. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 47, 669-671.
  • Signer, Beat: What is Wrong with Digital Documents? A Conceptual Model for Structural Cross-Media Content Composition and Reuse, In Proceedings of the 29th International Conference on Conceptual Modeling (ER 2010), Vancouver, Canada, November 2010.
  • Smith, Barry. "How to Do Things with Documents", Rivista di Estetica, 50 (2012), 179-198.
  • Smith, Barry. "Document Acts",in Anita Konzelmann-Ziv, Hans Bernhard Schmid (eds.), 2013. Institutions, Emotions, and Group Agents.Contributions to Social Ontology (Philosophical Studies Series), Dordrecht: Springer
  • Ørom, A. (2007). The concept of information versus the concept of document. I: Document (re)turn. Contributions from a research field in transition. Ed. By Roswitha Skare, Niels Windfeld Lund & Andreas Vårheim. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. (pp. 53-72).

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.


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