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For other uses, see Document (disambiguation).

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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 doceō 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 three-dimensional
objects that would otherwise satisfy the definition of "document" because they memorialize or
represent thought; documents are considered more as 2 dimensional representations.


 1Abstract definitions
 2Kinds
 3Drafting
 4History
 5In law
 6See also
 7References
 8Further reading

Abstract definitions[edit]
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
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.:

 Academia: manuscript, thesis, paper, and journal

 Business: invoice, quote, RFP, proposal, contract, packing
slip, manifest, report (detailed and summary), spread
sheet, MSDS, waybill, bill of lading (BOL), financial
statement, nondisclosure agreement (NDA), mutual
nondisclosure agreement (MNDA), and user guide
 Government, law,
and politics: application, brief, certificate, commission, constitutio
nal document, form, gazette, identity
document, license, summons, and white paper
 Media: mock-up and script
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, some short documents also may consist of sheets of
paper stapledtogether.
Historically, documents were inscribed with ink on papyrus (starting in ancient Egypt)
or parchment; scratched as runes or carved on stone using a sharp tool, 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:

 Monitor of a desktop computer, laptop, tablet PC, et cetera;

optionally with a printer to produce a hard copy;
 Personal digital assistant (PDA);
 Dedicated e-book device;
 Electronic paper, typically, using the Portable Document
Format (PDF);
 Information appliance;
 Digital audio player; and
 Radio and television service provider.
Digital documents usually require a specific file format in order to be presentable in a specific
In law[edit]
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[edit]
 Archive
 Book
 Documentation
 History of the book
 Realia (library science)

1. Jump up^ Briet. 1951. 7. Quoted in Buckland, 1991.
2. Jump up^ 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
3. Jump up^ Buckland, M. "What Is a Digital Document?" 1998.
In Document Numérique Paris. 2(2). [1].

Further reading[edit]
Wikimedia Commons has
media related
to Documents.

 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).


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