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A document is a written or drawn representation of thoughts. Originating from the Latin Documentum meaning lesson - the verb doceō means to teach, and is pronounced similarly, in the past it was usually used as a term for a written proof used as evidence. In the computer age, a document is usually used to describe a primarily textual file, along with its structure and design, such as fonts, colors and additional images.
The formal term 'document' is defined in Library and information science and in documentation science, as a basic theoretical construct. It is everything which may be preserved or represented in order to serve as evidence for some purpose. The classical 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." (Quoted from Buckland, 1998 ). (This view has been seen as an early expression of what now is known as actor–network theory).
The document concept
The concept of document has been defined as “any concrete or symbolic indication, preserved or recorded, for reconstructing or for proving a phenomenon, whether physical or mental" (Briet, 1951, 7; here quoted from Buckland, 1991).
A much cited article asked "what is a document" and concluded this way: “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). 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.
Types of documents
There are accepted standards for specific applications in various fields, such as:
- Academic: thesis, paper, journal
- Business and accounting: Invoice, quote, RFP, Proposal, Contract, Packing slip, Manifest, Report detailed & summary, Spread sheet, MSDS, Waybill, Bill of Lading (BOL), Financial statement, Nondisclosure agreement (NDA) or sometimes referred to as; Mutual nondisclosure agreement (MNDA)
- Law and politics: summons, certificate, license, gazette
- Government and industry: white paper, application forms, user-guide
- Media and marketing: brief, mock-up, script
Such standard documents can be created based on a template.
The page layout of a document is the manner in which information is graphically arranged in the document space (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 deals with the design of letter and symbol forms, as well as their physical arrangement in the document (see typesetting). Information design focuses on the effective communication of information, especially in industrial documents and public signs. Simple text documents may not require a visual design and may be handled by an author, clerk or transcriber. Forms may require a visual design for the initial fields, but not to fill out the forms.
Traditionally, the medium of a document was paper and the information was applied to it as ink, either by hand (to make a hand-written document) or by a mechanical process (such as a printing press or, more recently, a laser printer).
Through time, documents have also been written with ink on papyrus (starting in ancient Egypt) or parchment; scratched as runes or carved on stone using a sharp apparatus (such as the Tablets of Stone described in the bible); stamped or cut into clay and then baked to make clay tablets (e.g., in the Sumerian and other Mesopotamian civilisations). The paper, papyrus or parchment might be rolled up as a scroll or cut into sheets and bound into a book. Today short documents might also consist of sheets of paper stapled together.
Modern electronic means of storing and displaying documents include:
- desktop computer and monitor (or laptop, tablet PC, etc.); optionally with a printer to obtain a hard copy
- Personal digital assistant (PDA)
- dedicated e-book device
- electronic paper
- information appliances
- digital audio players
- radio and television service provider
Digital documents usually have to adhere to a specific file format in order to be useful.
That documents cannot be defined by their transmission medium
Documents in all forms are frequently found to be material evidence in criminal and civil proceedings. The forensic analysis of such a document falls under the scope of questioned document examination. For the purpose of cataloging and managing the large number of documents that may be produced in the course of a lawsuit, Bates numbering is often applied to all documents so that each document has a unique, aribitrary identifying number.
- Realia (library science)
- Subject (documents)
- Commission (document)
- Form (document)
- Constitutional documents
- Identity document
- Identity document forgery
- Buckland, M. (1998). What is a digital document? In: Document Numérique (Paris) 2(2), http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~buckland/digdoc.html
- Levy, D. M. (1994) . Fixed or fluid? Document stability and new media. In European Conference on Hypertext Technology 1994 Proceedings, (pp. 24–31) . New York: Association for Computing Machinery. Retrieved 2011-10-18 from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.119.8813&rep=rep1&type=pdf
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- 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).