How to Write a Record Series Description


A good scope and contents/description note includes five types of information:

  • Title
  • Dates
  • Formats
  • Topical areas
  • Names of correspondents

While you are arranging and refolding records, it is strongly recommended that you keep a list of (1) formats, (2) topics, and (3) significant correspondents.  Doing so makes it MUCH easier to write the description when you get to that point in the processing workflow.

In a good description, the following topics  are treated in the order listed:

(Note: the elements are separated by the use of the transitive verbs ‘including’ and ‘concerning.’)

  1. Title of record series (inclusive dates of records or birth/death dates and dates of service for individual) [dates are usually but not always required]
  2. including‘ or ‘includes
  3. Types/formats of documentation and general description of records creators
  4. concerning or relating to
  5. topical areas covered.
  6. [optional] Significant correspondents include’ or a similar statement describing supplementary materials.
  7. list of topics, people or groups as appropriate.

Office records example:

General correspondence of President Edmund J. James including correspondence, reports, memoranda, publications and files received from or sent to trustees, deans, other university administrators, faculty and the public concerning admissions policies and enrollment statistics; alumni activities; associations of universities and university administrators; athletics; university budgets; financial reports; reports of colleges, schools and departments; public relations; Chicago professional departments; relations with trustees and deans; state departments and federal agencies; relations with Illinois high schools; religious foundations; invitations and engagements to speak at public functions; military training and preparedness; gifts and estates; relations with local communities; Illinois General Assembly sessions and legislative bills; summer session and similar administrative affairs.

This general file contains significant material on appointments to the University; organization and reorganization of colleges and departments; acquisition of the medical college; relations with professional and industrial associations; library expansion and relations with other college and universities in Illinois.

Personal papers example: 

Papers of Albert Howe Lybyer (1876-1949), professor of History (1913-1944) including correspondence, memoranda, diaries, notes, photographs, manuscripts, bibliography slips and financial records relating to courses taken at Princeton and Harvard and taught at Robert College (1901-1907), Oberlin (1910-1913), and Illinois (1913-1944); service with the Inquiry, the American Commission to Negotiate Peace and the King-Crane Commission on mandates in Turkey (1918-1919); schools and relief in the Near East; travel in the U.S., Europe and the Near East; contributions to periodicals and encyclopedias; addresses and radio talks; service on University committees (1920-1940); manuscript bibliographies on the Ottoman Empire; historical association committees; conservation; mathematics; real estate investments in Florida, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois; family history and genealogy and personal affairsThe series also includes 2×3 inch glass slides of travel scenes in Europe and the Ottoman Empire (1912).