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Description may include but is not limited to: an abstract, a table of contents, a graphical representation, or a free-text account of the resource.

The following information is extracted, paraphrased, and adapted from Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), published by the Society of American Archivists (Chicago: 2005).

3.1 The description provides information about the nature of the material and the activities reflected within, to enable users to judge its potential relevance. This may include information about any and all of the following as appropriate:

  • the documentary form or intellectual characteristics of the item being described (minutes, report, watercolor, letter)
  • the subject matter, such as topics, events, people, and organizations

3.1.3 Derive the information from the material itself and any relevant documentation.

3.1.4 Record information about the purpose and scope of the document. Example: "Letter presented by 21 Oneida Indians, signed with their marks, requesting that Jasper Parrish pay them the amount they are owed for serving in the War of 1812. They state that they are aware that he received the money three months previously and they are anxious to settle the account." (From the Oneida Nation petition to Jasper Parrish)

3.1.5 When the item being described is known to be incomplete (for example, pages missing), record information about the gaps.

The following is not in the DACS but may assist in description

For photographs, focus on the primary content of the image. More detail is useful here than was included in the title.


    1. who or what is the focus, and what surrounds them
    2. if it contains people but you have no names, use the term "unidentified" in conjunction with descriptive nouns, such as men, women, children. If you have names, be sure to list them.
    3. what is happening, and any context necessary to make sense of the event.
    4. if the time frame or setting is important, include that in the description.

Please do not try to interpret or explain why.


  • Jeff Coleman wearing a plaid bunny suit and antlers, standing on top of an unidentified man sprawled on the White House steps, following the Grand Masqued Ball to celebrate the end of the World War II. They are surrounded by a crowd of unidentified children who appear to be laughing and clapping.
  • Caucasian policeman strikes black male student in the head with the butt of his rifle. They are in the midst of a crowd of unidentified young men and women who appear to be frightened, angry, and possibly shouting. This riot occurred outside Gorgas Library at the University of Alabama during a civil rights demonstration after the first black students were admitted to the university.