During the month of April the NCAR Archives will be offering a glimpse of what an archivist does behind the scenes with boxes of records. Check back often for new posts!
To sort or not to sort . . that is the question! Do you preserve original order of the papers, or rearrange everything so as to bring order out of chaos?. Well, that depends on what you have. If your box of papers contains neat file folders according to an existing filing system, then the best advice is not to disturb the arrangement.
This allows access to the files in the manner originally intended, and provides clues as to what information was considered important. Rearranging the contents of established files would harm their original order, and so it is not encouraged. But, if you box of papers is a jumbled mass of paper without any discernible order, then you will need to spend time figuring out how they should be organized.
Arrangement can be by whatever manner seems best for a given group. i.e. alphabetical, chronological, or by subject. Consistent order is important for whichever organizing principle is used. File folders are the universal means of grouping papers together.