Organizing Your Documents-A Tale of Two Systems

It is unlikely that you will have an accreditation review team running amok in your supporting documents. Rather, their access will be limited to where and how you link them to your narratives and the platform you are using to put things together so the organizational structure is for the institution alone. I have seen two approaches to organizing the supporting documents each with good and bad characteristics and, I suppose, there is a third one out there.

Some institutions will create a folder for each standard in the accreditation report and use that folder to house all of the supporting documents for that narrative. The advantage to this is that, when it comes time to make the links between the narratives and the supporting documents, there is only one place to go to find all of the files. Another benefit is that you can add highlights or other emphasis to draw the attention of the reviewer to the specific bit that they need to read. This is especially welcome with multi-page documents. A disadvantage is that this results in a duplication of effort. There are institutional documents that will be referenced in multiple narratives and, within this structure, these would need to be uploaded multiple times.

Some institutions will create folders in the document repository by document type. For example, you might find a folder called “Institutional Policies” and one named “Board Policies” and one called “Job Descriptions” etc. The advantage of this is that you only have to upload each document once and you can then link to each one as many times as you need to. However, you do give up the ability to add the highlighting mentioned above since different narratives may refer to different sections of a supporting document. Another folder you might find with this approach is one called “Institutional Publications” where the Catalog and other handbook-type documents can be found and this ensures that everybody is linking to the same version of these important documents. Most online platforms have the ability to link to specific pages in a long document such as a college catalog and that will save lots of time since you will link to that over and over and over. However, there are some browser-specific issues with this feature.

We suppose there is at least one more approach, which is not to impose any structure on your authors and allow them to upload and link to their documents however they wish with whatever organizational structure they choose. This stresses us out just thinking about it.

While we have a favorite between the first two strategies we won’t pick a side here. Either is a workable approach and you should choose whichever makes the most sense to you. Pick it early and enforce it relentlessly! There is, of course, room for a hybrid approach as well. Additionally, if there is another viable option out there that has not been covered we would love to hear about it.

At Southeastern Accreditation Consultants, we’re ready to collaborate and support your accreditation and strategic planning efforts. From reviewing narratives to building your documentation, we offer individualized services to best meet your needs. Contact us to get started.

Published by Douglas A. Wymer

Throughout an academic career spanning nearly 20 years, Dr. Wymer participated in many site visits (both substantive change and reaffirmation visits) for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and he has been a visiting team member for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges with the Western Association of Colleges and Schools. In addition to serving as a team member, Dr. Wymer has served as a visiting committee chair for SACSCOC. After earning a B.S. in Biology (with a minor in Chemistry) from what was then Shorter College, an M.S. in Entomology from Clemson University, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from Tennessee Technological University, Dr. Wymer started a rewarding career in academia. He earned tenure and achieved the rank of Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences at The University of West Alabama and served in a number of administrative roles at UWA including Department Chair and Assistant Dean. He served as a Department Head at Pensacola State College and, after a year in that position, was promoted to Dean of Baccalaureate Studies and Academic Support. In 2016 he became the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Lake-Sumter State College, where he served for four years before launching Southeastern Accreditation Consultants.

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