How to Organize Your Files With Cross Referencing

by Ian McKenzie on February 21, 2012

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To be honest, I’m not a big fan of cross-referenced file systems. Specifically, I’m not a fan of systems which require you to keep a secondary index of things you’ve already filed. Whether in a card system, a notebook or a

English: Wooden File Cabinet with drawer open....

Image via Wikipedia

computer file, the more places you have to keep files organized, the more places for things to get out of control.

That being said, cross referencing works for some people and certain fixed types of cross references are easy for anybody to use. Also, the development of tags as metadata for electronic data serves as a type of cross reference.

What is cross referencing?

When organizing documents or records you will have those which could belong under more than one category or file name. To manage this, file the records in one category and place a cross-reference note in the other. It is important to be consistent in deciding where to file records. Cross referencing can also trigger the mind into remembering information.

One of the most common examples of a cross reference is the index of a book. A cookbook might have a single recipe listed in several places in the index. For example, chicken pot pie could be listed under both pie and chicken categories.

There are Three Basic Ways to Cross References

1. SEE – used:

  • When a subject heading can be referred to by more than one term. E.g., pets/dogs, anxiety/worry, auto/car
  • When a subject can be a sub-file of a broader subject heading. E.g., Tokyo/Japan, scarves/winter clothing, chicken pot pie/pies
  • When an obscure subject can be a sub-file and there is potential that it might be forgotten. E.g., asefetida/spices

2. SEE ALSO – used:

  • When additional information about a subject can be found under related subjects. E.g., a Household folder may contain a renovation file with information on redoing a room. However, other files such as wallpaper, paint, carpeting, contractors might all contain related information.

3. REMINDER –  used:

  • When an item needed is on the back of or within an article filed under another subject. E.g., you clip an article from a photo magazine on how to take low-light pictures; the back of the first page has ten quick tips for Photoshop users.
  • When an item needed is in a book. E.g., you have two shelves full of cook books. As you read and use them, you note the great chicken pot pie recipe that you want to take to the next pot-luck dinner you attend.
  • When items are too big to fit into a file folder. E.g., we have a traditional family Christmas Eve dinner. I have a sheet filed in a binder with what we serve, what needs to be bought from where and when, and the time line for preparations.

All three cross-reference types can serve to: trigger the mind into remembering and direct to information in a file. In addition, it eliminates the need to file duplicates keeping the system clean.

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