Documentation is important for any organization or project, and of course is also central to digital preservation good practice. It is necessary for moving forward with digital preservation maturity models such as DPC’s Rapid Assessment Model and the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation. It is essential for providing evidence of processes when applying for digital preservation certification such as CoreTrustSeal or ISO16363. If you need further persuasion, a DPC blog post from Amy Rudersdorf of AVP provides a compelling list of reasons why we should all make time for documentation. 

Good documentation undoubtedly is good practice but it is not always given the attention it deserves. The OSSArcFlow project noted in 2020 in their Guide to Documenting Born-Digital Archival Workflows that: “the vast majority of today’s born-digital archiving activity is not well documented”.

There are many possible reasons for this. The OSSArcFlow project notes for example that: “most collecting institutions believe that their born-digital archiving workflows are still too ad hoc or nascent to deserve formal documentation.”

There is sometimes a reluctance to formalize processes and commit things to paper when they are still evolving, but there are many benefits to doing so (as discussed in ‘Why should we document?’).

It is a given that digital preservation practitioners need skills in creating documentation. The DPC’s Competency Audit Framework includes the skills around the production of documentation under the ‘Advocacy and Communications’ competency area and includes example tasks such as documenting procedures and workflows and producing technical documentation.

In 2022, the DPC heard from its Members that it would be helpful to be able to share experiences and tips on how to create documentation. In response to this, early in 2023 we ran a series of focus group meetings with the aim of facilitating knowledge exchange and an intention to gather the information shared into this online guide. 


This guide is aimed at digital preservation practitioners who must create, update and maintain digital preservation documentation as part of their work. It provides guidance on how to create and manage good documentation. An understanding of digital preservation concepts and processes is assumed.


‘Documentation’ in the context of this guide refers to documentation that is important for the day-to-day operation of digital preservation within an organization, for example recording how digital preservation tasks and procedures are carried out and how systems are integrated and configured. Documentation exists in the form of text and illustrations that can be shared with others - not as ideas that exist only in someone’s head! If a key member of your digital archives team unexpectedly left, would others be able to pick up their digital preservation work based on the available documentation? Would the operations of the digital archive be able to continue seamlessly and consistently? We focus in this guide on the types of documentation that would help to facilitate these goals.

There are however other types of documentation that are relevant to digital preservation, and these are considered to be out of scope for this guide:

  • This guide does not cover digital preservation policy and strategy documents or documentation relating to high level planning, reporting or resourcing. Note that guidance on writing a Digital Preservation Policy can be found in the DPC’s Digital Preservation Policy Toolkit

  • The guide does not cover documentation that helps to make individual records or datasets understandable.This may be the documentation that comes with digital content to enable others to interpret it, or documentation that is subsequently created by staff within the archive to enhance the usability of a particular dataset. 

  • Also out of scope is Preservation Metadata (metadata about events, agents, rights and objects as described in the PREMIS data dictionary).

Scroll to top