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Auteur: Yves MARCOUX; dernière modification de cette page: 2004-12-14

A repository of definitions for the concept of document

Very loosely maintained by: Yves MARCOUX - GRDS - EBSI - Université de Montréal

Michael J. D. Sutton

Document Management for the Enterprise: Principles, Techniques, and Applications. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1996. pp. 6‑7.

What is a Document?

A document can be defined and described in many different ways; usually, it is easier to start with examples. Generic document types can be illustrated by certain enterprise informational objects (i.e., things that represent organised packages of data within an enterprise). Examples of these objects may be briefing notes, correspondence, E-mail messages, memorandums, spreadsheets, studies, and so on.

Examples are a way to start, but a meaningful definition is also needed. I propose to derive a definition from the Latin root word documentum—an official publication, edit, or directive. In modern business terms official becomes a legally sanctioned record of a business transaction or decision that can be viewed as a single, organized unit: a document. A document does not have to be defined by its paper version or equivalent. It could be a digital representation of data tightly coupled for human use—for example, a purchase order, a personnel change request, or a check.

The content and the organizational context of a document are called the document object. An example of a specific document object would encompass the image of an article in Communications Week along with the referential attributes (issue number, volume number, date of publication, abstract, and keywords).

The definition of a document is still incomplete. One of the questions that remain is: How do you differentiate documents from databases in an enterprise, especially when databases may be used to populate a document, such as an electronic form? This is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 4.

When you begin to define documents in your enterprise, you may find some gray areas between systems, documents, databases, and formbases. Don't worry. A working definition—not an exhaustive one—is sufficient. Over the last few years I have found myself involved in some heady discussions with IS directors and managers who want to have a complete information architecture in place before they embark on an initiative. They don't want to let the users change their minds, so they have been known to spend weeks trying to determine when an electronic form is a document and when it is a database. Don't waste your time; it's a debate you cannot win.

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