If you’re new to records and document management, the two ideas might seem interchangeable. After all, what is the difference between a “record” and a “document?” Moreover, if you’re tasked with selecting software to address one or both concerns, you might be overwhelmed with the amount of information available for each process. Big surprise: these are two very different realms of dealing with information.

Let’s explore the difference between these two disciplines. This is especially important if you’re looking for software to meet business needs to clarify which features you might be looking for (it might even be both)! The distinction between document and records management revolve around their objectives, the type of documents/records involved, and the way personnel at a business handles them.

Document Management

Document management involves the “living” documents your organization uses during each business day. It would be tough to run a business without the data you produce from regular business processes and daily employee communication.

Document management, much like records management, can involve physical or electronic files. The focus in document management, though, is to improve workflow and efficiency and to provide a central repository to access the documents with which you need to work. You need to be able to “check out” a document, make necessary edits, submit it back into your document management system, and make it available for other employees. These documents will likely be touched by many people over their lifecycle to provide information to get their jobs done. In summary, documents in a document management system are regularly accessed by people in the organization to perform their duties and ensure the latest, most significant information is available to those that require it.

Records Management

Most records in a records management program are comprised of historical records that won’t be altered. Records management is more concerned with legal compliance. That is, it’s crucial that these records comply with laws and regulations that affect the required retention and handling of records. Records management programs and the records managers that maintain them establish policies and procedures that guide the lifecycle of records. From creation to disposition, records management ensures the lifecycle of records are on the right track, and this leads to peace of mind for those in the organization.

Records management typically involves creating a records inventory, researching laws that affect those records and following established retention periods. Ensuring an audit trail is in place and managing the disposal of documents when the time comes are all in the job description. Records management is a must in all organizations, and a well-defined records management program protects an organization from potential penalties, costly e-discovery, and failed audits.


While document management and records management share some similarities, they are also very different beasts. Document management involves workflow, and documents in a document management system will be shared and evolve until they are classified as historical records.

Records management, on the other hand, deals mostly with historical records that don’t typically change and instead serve as evidence that specific actions have taken place. Records management is all about compliance with laws and regulations and is concerned with the classification of records, so your organization adheres to retention periods. Both document and record management are crucial to the efficiency of a well-run business, but in different ways and with different purposes.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide general education on Information Governance topics. The statements are informational only and do not constitute legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the application of the law to your business activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.