Glossary of terms in archival studies and diplomatics

This following is a glossary of diplomatics and archival science terminology as used in this online course. Terms are listed alphabetically, with the German original in parentheses. Italicized terms within the definition are also found in the glossary. At the end of the glossary you will find literature and links that aided in the creation of this glossary. We recommend these sources for further reading.

Simple copy (Abschrift)

A written duplicate of a document that reproduces the content but not the format of the original.

File (Akte)

A file is comprised of documents that share a reference and are connected to a specific operational activity. These include internal documents such as memoranda, directives, and drafts, as well as carbon copies marked as sent and external communication such as received documents.

Today, files are usually created according to a filing plan, or classification of areas of activity. However some administrative bodies create their files on the basis of freely chosen key words describing the content. When a filing plan does exist, files are assigned a file reference and a file title. Since a file often contains more paper than fits in one binder, it may encompass several volumes. Files are often subdivided into smaller units known as records.

Filing plan (Aktenplan)

A filing plan is a systematic hierarchical classification of an agency's tasks into reference subjects and a relevant notation. The documents of an administrative body are organised and compiled into files on the basis of the filing plan. The hierarchical structure of references goes from the general to the particular. In contrast to the file list, the filing plan is meant only to provide a framework and is not an indication of the existence of actual documents.

File note (Aktenvermerk)

Written summary of information about events, conversations or the current state of a case which might be important to reaching conclusions. The file note is permanently linked to the case at hand by means of the file reference. Its purpose is to provide additional information on a case.

File list (Aktenverzeichnis)

A list, based on the filing plan, of all existing files by reference item. The file list provides a clear structure for the filing plan, which retains its function as a planning instrument.

File reference (Aktenzeichen (Az.))

A file reference is a unique code at the lowest level of the filing plan. If necessary, it contains additional reference information such as derivation or the consecutive number of the file within its subgroup. The file reference is used to match a document to a file.

Archive material (Archivgut)

Archive material comprises documents—particularly from public bodies—that are deemed suitable for archiving. These include deeds, certificates, files, public records, maps, photos, video or audio recordings and the equipment needed to use them, regardless of whether they are digital or analogue. After archive material has been accessed, it can be divided into official and non-official material. The latter is sometimes called collection material to differentiate it from archive material.

Archival value (Archivwürdigkeit)

A document has archival value when it has either been appraised as such or when it exhibits some legally specified characteristic that makes it worthy of continued preservation in an archive. Such documents have lasting value because they aid our understanding of the present and/or the past or because of the legal or administrative information they contain or because they are necessary to secure the legitimate interests of third parties. Documents that by law must be preserved, or may be needed for legal recourse, also have archival value.

Account (Aufzeichnung)

A written note, memorandum, or text, including any graphic signs and symbols with which they have been modified, corrected or prepared for further use.

Final copy (Ausfertigung)

The authorised clean copy of a document meant for one or more recipients.

Outgoing document (Ausgang)

Letter or other missive to an external addressee, usually an answer to an incoming document. In terms of function, an outgoing letter has two parts: the draft, resulting from an directive, and the final copy. The directive, together with the draft of the outgoing document (which was perhaps created with and signed by other administrative bodies) as well as confirmation by the Chancellery that it was dealt with, remains in each respective organization’s files.

Report (Bericht)

Written document from an administrative office or government agency to a higher-up office or agency that is authorized to issue directives. The report has the function of imparting information and requesting a decision.

Decision (Bescheid)

Letter from a public office or government body to a private individual or civilian organization, often as a result of an application or a complaint. Decisions can be appealed.

Reference item (Betreffseinheit)

The lowest level of a filing plan or smallest unit under which archival documents are grouped. The reference item together with a consecutive number or number and letter combination make up the file reference.

Appraisal (Bewertung)

Assessment of the archival value of a document that has been offered to the archive from an office or individual

Carbon copy (Durchschlag)

A copy of a written, usually typed, document on carbon paper. A carbon copy serves e.g. as proof of having sent a letter in the sender's file, or in place of a simple copy when the same text is sent to multiple recipients.

Incoming document (Eingang)

External letter or petition or internal file note that enters the workflow and is immediately identified by notations stipulated by the Rules of Procedure such as date of receipt, classification, and often also a file reference. The incoming document initiates a process that often ends with an outgoing document.

Draft (Entwurf/Konzept)

A provisional decision and simultaneously the internal version of an outgoing document that may be corrected in a participatory process, for example in the case of co-signing. The draft is part of the directive on the final copy of the outgoing document. When a draft is finished, including all edits and notations, it becomes part of the file, unless it is replaced by a carbon copy or a duplicate of the final copy, for example when a letter has been dictated.

Direction (Federführung)

The agency or person who has direction is responsible for a task from beginning to end, including planning collaboration with other bodies, as stipulated for an area of activity in the Schedule of Authority (Geschäftsverteilungsplan) or decided for an individual task upon receival.

Workflow (Geschäftsgang)

The workflow is a defined procedure for dealing with administrative tasks in line with provisions and regulations. It set in motion by an event (an incoming letter, phone call, etc.) and triggers actions that are usually defined in a registry plan or in the Rules of Procedure. It leaves traces on the documents themselves in the form of memoranda and/or directives and thus supports the transparency of administrative procedures. The aim of a unified workflow is to ensure that all stages of all administrative tasks are dealt with in a similar and transparent manner. The stages of a workflow usually include: incoming document, registration, allocation of a file reference, processing, outgoing document, and retention.

Rules of Procedure (Geschäftsordnung)

An institution’s fundamental rules and procedures for workflows, including how tasks should be dealt with when, by whom, in what order, and using which tools, as well as general guidelines for work and organisation.

Schedule of Authority (Geschäftsverteilungsplan)

A detailed list of the tasks within an administration and the allocation of responsibility for said tasks to certain positions or persons. The Schedule of Authority, like the Rules of Procedure, is created by the administrative body itself and sometimes approved by a higher body.

Chancellery (Kanzlei)

The record office in a public administration, responsible for making final copies and sending them on. Sometimes, it also formulates the texts to be sent following the orders of a division officer (Referent). Registry offices evolved out of chancelleries. The distribution of today's secretariats, which serve one or more of the division offices within any government agency, is usually determined by the former chancelleries.

Co-signing (Mitzeichnung)

This is a form of including multiple people or offices in a decision-making process. It usually takes the form of a co-signature list in a directive, created on the basis of the Schedule of Authority. For an outgoing document written by a leading office or person, those offices listed in the directive may sign the draft to show that they have seen it and/or add comments or corrections in a sequential or parallel approval process.

Co-signature list (Mitzeichnungsleiste)

That section of the directive that names the offices to be included in the co-signing process. It is signed in hierarchical order (from right to left).

Organigram (Organisationsplan)

A chart depicting the structure and hierarchy within an agency. The organigram includes all divisions of an organisation and depicts the relationships of these units to one another. Usually, it also includes a short description of each division’s responsibilities and leadership.

Initials (Paraphe)

A set abbreviation of a name, usually the first two or three initials of the last name, sometimes a combination of first and last name. Initials are used to sign internal documents.

Directory of initials (Paraphenverzeichnis)

An alphabetical list of all of an institution’s employees, including first and last name, their signature, and their initials.

Registry (Registratur)

Public institution or division of a public authority tasked with managing written documents. Usually divided into a current and old registry (Altregistratur). The first holds those documents required for ongoing business. The old registry manages those documents that have been processed and most likely will seldom be needed.

Clean draft (Reinkonzept)

When too many edits are made in a draft, a clean draft is created for readability. The second draft must be approved by the appropriate authority before a final copy is made.

Clean copy (Reinschrift)

The second to last stage of an official missive, usually created on the basis of the authorised draft before the final copy is created. Occasionally a clean copy is written directly, with no draft, for example from dictation. If a clean copy must be corrected, it is usually filed instead of the draft by the institution that created it.

Collection materials (Sammlungsgut)

Collection materials are put together by an archive on the basis of a special interest or topic. It also refers to private written materials with a provenance outside the registry of the administration of the archival holder. Collection materials in both categories are usually actively sought after by the archivist and typically have a non-institutional character.

Endorsement (Sichtvermerk)

A mark that, shows that a document has been seen by either—depending on the importance of the incoming document and on the Rules of Procedure—the director or directors of multiple levels. This mark can be initials or simply a slash or other symbol in a particular colour.

Journal (Tagebuch)

A journal is an analogue or digital list in which the registry office notes receivals and sometimes the stations where they were processed in chronological order. This log may be referred to as a Geschäftstagebuch, Tagebuch, Journal, Diarium, or Registrande.

Directive (Verfügung)

An instrument for steering decision-making procedures. In a directive, planned operations are written down, often in the form of a numbered list of processing steps that a document—for example a memorandum, a draft, or an incoming document—must go through. Each time a person finishes that step in the operation for which they were responsible, they confirm this with their initials and the date and the document is passed to the next division.

Usually, abbreviations are used for directives. Examples for directives are the decision that a document go to a certain person or division, that it be added to the file (zu den Akten or zdA) or a date is set for follow-up (Wiedervorlage or Wv).

A directive can also be an order from a higher-up division or institution to a person or organisation below them. Directives must be followed.

Note (Vermerk)

A short written comment on incoming, internal, or outgoing documents with reference to the stand of processing.

There is also the special form: the file note. A file note is an internal administrative memo that neither instructs nor calls for a decision. Following the principle that all administrative actions be held in writing, it informs about a non-written event or summarizes a certain aspect of a matter. It can result, for example, when a matter has been dealt with orally.

Record / operation (Vorgang)

In German, Vorgang, means both record as well as the individual steps taken in the management thereof. As a process, a Vorgang is the concrete individual measure taken by an administration to achieve its duties. It is the smallest possible operation with a clear output. As an object, a Vorgang or record includes all of the documents relating to one individual case.

A record is one element of a file, namely the smallest, indivisible bundle of documents, making it the lowest level of a file. In size, a record can be just one single sheet of paper or, in a larger case that lasted many month or years, many binders A record is the sum of a case’s papers from the first incoming document and any documents that followed, until the disposition that closes the case.

Allocation (Zuschreibung)

A written mark on an incoming document that denotes the person who is to process it. Usually it consists of their initials in or near the receipt stamp and is part of the initial processing.

Mandate (Zuständigkeit)

That area for which an institution or office is responsible, divided into type of task as well as regional and organizational authority. A mandate is a clear division of authority between administrative bodies. Within an institution, the Schedule of Authority dictates the mandate of individual units and employees. The organizational mandate of an archive comprises the public institutions and administrations of a defined territory (in Austria, Verwaltungssprengel) whose files are managed or retained by the archive.



  • Archivschule Marburg, Terminologie der Archivwissenschaft: http://www.archivschule.de/uploads/Forschung/ArchivwissenschaftlicheTerm... (last accessed July 10, 2019)
  • International Council on Archives, Multilingual archival terminology: http://www.ciscra.org/mat/mat (last accessed July 10, 2019)
  • Menne-Haritz, Angelika: Schlüsselbegriffe der Archivterminologie. Lehrmaterialien für das Fach Archivwissenschaft (Marburg: Archivschule Marburg, 2000)
  • Miller, Thea “The German registry: The evolution of a recordkeeping model.” Archival Science 3/1 (2003), 43-63
  • Reimann, Norbert (ed.), Praktische Archivkunde. Ein Leitfaden für Fachangestellte für Medien- und Informationsdienste - Fachrichtung Archiv (Münster: Ardey, 2014)
  • Schmid, Gerhard, “Akten,” in Friedrich Beck and Eckart Henning (eds.), Die archivalischen Quellen (Cologne: UTB, 2003)
  • Society of American Archivists, Glossary of terms: https://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/c (last accessed July 10, 2019)