Rules of Alphabetizing

Disclaimer: Before you start following these rules in the office, it’s a good idea to double-check with your employer about the alphabetizing rules followed in your company. There are different versions of filing rules so filing practices differ from company to company. 

It’s important for every business to have their employee information, company records, and other important data maintained in a proper and systematic manner. The way most companies do this is by alphabetization. The process has quite a few benefits as well. For instance, having a standardized filing practice means documents will be easier to find, you can add or remove new entries without disturbing other entries, and alphabetization is an intuitive process so people other than employees can understand it as well. 

There are three versions of alphabetical filing rules: 

  • Letter by letter: In this version, spaces between the words are disregarded.
  • Word by word: Here, each word is filed on the basis of the first letter.
  • Unit by unit: Here, each word, abbreviation, and initial is considered as a separate unit.

For this article, we’ll be focusing on the unit by unit version simply because it covers pretty much all the rules. Here we go:

Rule #1: File numbers first

Numbers go first. Arabic numbers (0-9) are indexed numerically before alphabetic characters. However, keep in mind that they are NOT spelled out. For instance, 21 Horses Inc. will come before 4 Horsemen Pvt Ltd. because we disregard the t and f in twenty and four respectively. 

You’ll file numbers in the same way you would file alphabets – in the ascending order, that is smallest to largest.

If the numbers are spelled out, they’ll be treated as normal words and filed alphabetically. 

Rule #2: Initials go next

Initials are also considered separate units and they too are filed alphabetically. So if you have to file: J.K. Smith and K. Nyugen, J.K. Smith would be filed first. 

But what if the initials are the same, like this: J.K. Smith and J.K. Nyugen. In this case, J. K. Nyugen will go first because we are looking at each letter (including the initials) by their designation. That means if the first letter of their surnames were the same as well, we would then look at the second letter in their surname. So by that logic, J.K. Night would come before J.K. Nyugen.

Rule #3: Filing hyphenated names

How does one treat hyphenated names? It’s pretty simple – you treat hyphenated names as one unit. Whether it’s the first name, middle name or surname that is hyphenated, it will be treated as one unit. However, the symbol in this case (the hyphen) is not considered a separate symbol and should be ignored.

Rule #4: Ignore the articles

Articles are words that describe the noun. In the English language, there are three articles: the, a, and an. You must ignore these while alphabetizing.

Example: When alphabetizing A Face and The Arm, The Arm will become before A Face. 

Make sure you do not confuse the article “a” with an initial. 

Rule #5: Spell out the symbols

When symbols are part of a unit such as a name, they are spelled out. So $ is seen as Dollar and ! is seen as Exclamation Mark. 

Alphabetize them as you would normal words.

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