ECSCW ’99 pp 41-60 | Cite as

Six Roles of Documents in Professionals’ Work

  • Morten Hertzum


Documents are used extensively by professionals in their execution of their own work and to share information with others. Professionals use and manage their documents in ways that are woven into their work activities and leave most of the context unsaid because the documents are understood as belonging to a certain ongoing activity. Contrary to this, organisations have a strong interest in storing information in less person-dependent ways than simply relying on their employees’ memory and personal files. To support document management effectively we need to balance the individual professionals’ focus on their current activities against the long-term interests of the organisation, and we need a fuller understanding of the affordances and constraints of documents. This study identifies six roles documents play in professionals’ work, namely that documents serve: (1) as personal work files, (2) as reminders of things to do, (3) to share information with some yet withhold it from others, (4) to convey meaning, (5) to generate new meaning, and (6) to mediate contacts among people. Painstakingly standardised and very time-consuming methods are required for documents to convey meaning but such efforts are rarely considered worthwhile compared to relying on other document roles or rework.


Category Structure Information Space Information Item Computer Support Cooperative Work Document Management 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Morten Hertzum
    • 1
  1. 1.Risø National LaboratoryCentre for Human-Machine InteractionDenmark

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