How to File Alphabetically

Nov 23, 2021
by Julie East

Every business must develop and maintain an organized way to store written communication, such as reports, letters, purchase orders, memorandums, order forms, invoices, and other information so that it is available for efficient retrieval or reference. This method of storing records is called filing. While there are a number of different methods for storing or filing information – alphabetic, subject, numeric, and geographic – the most common method is the alphabetic filing system.

Procedures for storing records alphabetically will vary among organizations and even among departments within an organization. Therefore, the filing procedures to be used in any one office need to be determined, recorded, approved, and followed, without exception. Without written rules for storing records, procedures will vary with time, changes in personnel, etc. These changes could cause difficulty in future retrieval of records or even in the loss of records.

The rules below are based on filing textbooks.

File names in alphabetic sequence, comparing similar names letter by letter.

Wells BEFORE Wiles (e before i)

Wiels BEFORE Wilson (e before l)

Wilson BEFORE Wilton (s before t)

Alphabetize nothing before something – file incomplete names before similar complete ones.


Wilson Bakery

Wilson Bakery Company

Alphabetize personal names last first, then first names, then middle names or initials. (Each separate word used in filing is called a “filing unit.” In the examples that follow, the “/” marks off the separate filing units.)

James Bean – BEAN/JAMES

James E. Bean – BEAN/JAMES/E

James F. Bean – BEAN/JAMES/F

Personal Names with Prefixes – Articles and Particles. Prefixes, such as Mc in McAdams is considered as part of the name it precedes. Ignore any apostrophe or space that may appear within or after the prefix.

Commonly used prefixes are a, la, d’ D’ de, De, Del, De la, Di, Du, El, Fitz, La, Le, Lo, Los, M’, Mac, Mc, O’, Saint, St., Ste., Te, Ter, Van, Van de, Van der, Von, and Von der.

Susan D’Arcy – DARCY/SUSAN

Jan De Tomas – DETOMAS/JAN

Erin O’Reilly – OREILLY/ERIN

Ignore hyphens; assume the words they join are one solid word, and file as such.

Alice Lake-Arrow – LAKEARROW/ALICE

John Smith-Bjorn – SMITHBJORN/JOHN

Carr-Coe Realty – CARRCOE/REALTY

Personal Names With Titles and Suffixes. When used with a person’s name, a title or a suffix is the last indexing unit when needed to distinguish between two or more identical names. A title appears before a name (Capt., Dr., Miss, Mr., Mrs., Ms., Prof., Sgt.). Suffixes appear after a name and include seniority terms (II, III, Jr., Sr.) and professional designations (CPA, CRM, CMA, MD, Ph.D.). Some terms may appear either before or after the name (Senator, Mayor). If a name contains both a title and a suffix, the title is the last unit.

Lt. George Brown – BROWN/GEORGE/LT

Mrs. Ethel Hunter – HUNTER/ETHEL/MRS


Exception 1:  When the title is the only word in addition to the last name.

Captain Clark – CLARK/CAPTAIN

Dr. Coulter – COULTER/DR

Exception 2:  When the title is part of the trade name or company name, in which case it retains its position in the sequence.

Mrs. Paul’s Pies – MRS./PAULS/PIES


4. Single Letters and Abbreviations of Personal Names. Initials in personal names (J.D., A.J.) are considered separate indexing units. Abbreviations of personal names (Wm., Jos.) and nicknames (Bill, Rick, Ali) are indexed as they are written.

A. J. Anderson – ANDERSON/A/J

Geo. Bush – BUSH/GEO

Wm. Danielson – DANIELSON/WM

Punctuation and Possessives in Business and Organization Names. All punctuation is ignored when indexing business and organization names. Commas, periods, hyphens, apostrophes, dashes, exclamation points, question marks, quotation marks, and diagonals (/) are disregarded and names are indexed as written.

Bob’s Rent-a-Car – BOBS/RENTACAR


The Pepper Tree – PEPPER/TREE/THE

Numbers in Business and Organization Names. Arabic numbers written in digits (1,15,189) and Roman numerals (II, IV, IX) are considered one unit and are filed in numeric order before alphabetic characters with Arabic numbers preceding Roman numerals (2, 156, III, XIV).

1 Stop Shopping Store – 1/STOP/SHOPPING/STORE

7-Days Extended Care – 7DAYS/EXTENDED/CARE


Twenty-Four Hour Photo – TWENTYFOUR/HOUR/PHOTO

Symbols in Business and Organization Names. If a symbol is part of a name, the symbol is indexed as if spelled out. When a symbol is used with a number without spacing between ($5, #1), it is considered one unit and the symbol is spelled out (5DOLLAR, NUMBER1).

50¢ Store – 50CENT/STORE


The Dollar Store – DOLLAR/STORE/THE

When in doubt, check with your supervisor or office manager on their specific filing rules. If none, use the standard alphabetic indexing rules and procedures.

About Lofton: Founded in 1979, Lofton Services offers clients the best of all worlds. We provide the responsive, personal service and flexibility of a small local firm while having the technology, resources, and infrastructure to deliver the benefits of the biggest players in our industry. Lofton can deliver the right people, with the right skills, right when you need them. Contact us today.