Re: How Long to Keep Files of Completed Projects

Subject: Re: How Long to Keep Files of Completed Projects
From: Lauren <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 03 May 2012 12:29:54 -0700

On 5/3/2012 7:02 AM, LTC Writer wrote:

How long do you keep files of completed projects? Is there a legal
requirement to keep them?

For anything related to finances, you probably want to keep them for five years and then destroy them, like tax records. For other documents, you keep them for at least the length of time in which you can be sued for anything related to the documentation or its contents. That time is based on statutes of limitations that are usually no longer than five years for cases that would involve documents. Many companies (all finance companies and banks) have archival and destruction schedules.

Lawyers and accountants are good resources for learning and developing archival and destruction schedules for documentation. Very rarely would a technical writer ever be sued, but product manufacturers are often sued and sometimes documentation is part of the lawsuit. Only a lawyer can help technical writers and companies understand if and when documentation can be part of a lawsuit.

Documents should be retained for the time in which they may be necessary to defend a lawsuit, but they should be destroyed after than time if they can be used later by plaintiffs in a lawsuit. For example, if a company can be sued for providing bad (defective) instructions for a product, then all instructions should be retained for the lawsuit. If the statute of limitations has passed for a company to be sued for its product instructions, then the documentation should be destroyed. If the documentation was defective and the company still has the documentation, the plaintiffs can get that documentation under a motion for discovery and use it against the company. If the documentation is destroyed, then the company can defend that the statute of limitations has passed.

I am in my 12th year of independent tech writing and in the earlier years,
reviews were done on hard copies. I have continued the same practice except
that I generally do not update those documents. One reason I kept the
revisions, research information, and meeting notes is because if I or the
client was sued for errors and omissions, I would have some documentation
that might be useful as a defense.

Learn the statute of limitations for your state and for the types of documents that you write and possess.

Now I am running out of space to store
file boxes. I am thinking of recycling about six years' of files. I still
have electronic files on CDs and a hard drive but these files do not contain
hard copy review notes. I have not had to go back to any of my paper files.
Should I just clean house and get rid of the paper files? Do I keep any of

I think many technical writers are notorious pack rats for documentation. Unless you can be a party to a lawsuit that involves your documentation, keeping it or destroying it should not be a legal problem. I keep old documents that I occasionally refer to so I can see how my writing has changed and so I can remember what I have done in the past, especially if it is work that I am proud of. For me, clearing out old hard copies of drafts and revisions feels better than dusting old boxes that just sit in a closet. I have never needed an old draft or revision for a closed project, so I do not keep those after a project is over.

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How Long to Keep Files of Completed Projects: From: LTC Writer

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