Records Management

Creating records

What to consider when creating records, especially about living identifiable people.

This guidance is intended for all University staff who produce records as part of their everyday work. It highlights the issues you should consider when creating any University record, and it provides specific guidance on common document types that raise particular issues. Data protection legislation and the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 both give people rights of access to information held by the University.

Data protection legislation permits people to see most of the information that the University holds about them (including information in e-mails, on personal drives of computers, or on home computers if you work from home) if they make a subject access request.

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act gives people the right to access any other recorded information that the University holds (again, including e-mails, information on personal or home computer drives or meeting minutes). Although both pieces of legislation include exemptions that will apply in certain circumstances, it is advisable to work on the assumption that all information you create will be accessible to somebody.

What is a record?

For the purposes of this guidance, a record is ‘recorded information in any format’. It includes official University documents, references, e-mails, video recordings, photographs and even Post-It notes.

Creating a record

Before creating the record, consider the purpose of the record. Ensure that you include all the information necessary to achieve that purpose, but do not include extraneous information.

Writing about an identifiable, living individual

As well as giving people the right to see the information we hold about them, data protection legislation also requires us to ensure that the information we hold about identifiable, living individuals is relevant, accurate but not excessive.

The following points will help you to achieve this in documents you create:

  •  Do not include irrelevant information. For example, when giving an academic reference it is unlikely to be necessary to comment on a person’s health, financial position or personal circumstances unless they have a direct bearing on the person’s academic achievement.
  • Clearly differentiate between matters of fact and opinion. For example, say, ‘In my opinion, this person has difficulty mixing with others’, rather than, ‘This person cannot mix with others’.
  • Do not express opinions that you are not prepared to defend, or which you cannot substantiate. For example, do not say, ‘This person has no personality whatsoever’; this clearly cannot be substantiated.
  • Do not express opinions in areas where you are not qualified. For example, do not say, ‘This person has a personality disorder’, unless it is relevant and you are qualified medical practitioner in a position to make such a diagnosis, or you know that a qualified medical practitioner has diagnosed the condition. It might be acceptable in some circumstances to say, ‘I am concerned about the mental health of this person’ but only if it is relevant to the matter under discussion.
  • Always be sure of the facts. Do not say, ‘This person has no archival research experience’ if you do not know the full details of their career. Instead say, ‘While this person was studying with me they did no archival research’, or, ‘To my knowledge, this person has no archival research experience’.
  • Always speak respectfully of the person, even when expressing negative information.

About this guidance

Version control

Author/editor

Date

Edits made

7

Claire Friend and Sara Cranston

March 2018

Removed repetition. Reformatted for accessibility. Separated guidance on references.

6

Susan Graham

June 2005