The National Archives Catalog

Scope and Content Note

Mandatory Repeatable Data Type Authority Level Available A/V Only Public Element
No No Variable Character Length (9999) None Record Group
File Unit
No Yes





Guidance | Style Basics | Use of Acronyms and Abbreviations


SERIES AND FILE UNIT SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTES | Access Points | Creators | Contributors | Models for Description | Describing Specific Records Types and Uniform Documents | Annotations | Gaps | Publication Titles

ITEM SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTES | Contributors | Individual Oral History Interviews | Photographs and Other Graphic Materials - Original Captions for Graphic Materials | Moving Image Materials - Content Titles for Moving Image Materials | Sound Recordings | Content Titles for Sound Recordings | Cartographic Materials and Architectural Drawings and Plans


Definition: The description of the breadth and depth of the record group, collection, or archival materials.



Provides an in-depth discussion of the record group, collection, or archival materials.

In conjunction with Title, Creator Elements, and Date Elements, Scope and Content Note helps users decide whether they are interested in the record group, collection, or archival materials.


Relationship: This element is independent.



Write a note that provides answers to basic questions that users might ask about the record group, collection, series, file unit, or item described. Explain any significant or heavily-represented topics, people, organizations, geographic places, or languages represented in the record group, collection, series, file unit, or item, as well as the types of materials present.

Style Basics

  • Write in complete sentences.
  • Write from the objective, not subjective, point of view.
  • Be precise and brief.

Do not exceed the 9,999 character limit for this element. Keep the Scope and Content Note under 10,000 characters.

Do not use unexplained acronyms or unknown organizational designations (including NARA mail codes).

Use of Acronyms and Abbreviations
  • Define an acronym used in Scope and Content Note the first time it appears.
  • However, if the acronym is already used and defined in Title, it does not have to be defined again in Scope and Content Note.
  • An acronym defined in Scope and Content Note can be used in other data elements (except Title) without defining it again.
  • Consult the Abbreviations section for further guidance on other abbreviation topics.
Title - Korean War File of American Prisoners of War, ca. 1950 - ca. 1953
Scope and Content Note - This series identifies an undetermined range of U.S. military officers and soldiers who were casualties as Prisoners of War (POWs) during the Korean War. The series originally seemed to be an index to the textual records known as the Returned or Exchanged Captured American Prisoners-Korea-Phase III, Interrogation Reports (RECAP-K). However, these records do not serve as a true index to the RECAP-K dossiers, also known as the dossiers for the Korean war prisoners exchanged at "Big Switch" and "Little Switch," because the dossier number in them does not match the Control number used in some of the textual interrogation reports. There are 4,714 records, each of which potentially contains the name of a prisoner of war, serial number, date of birth, dossier number, rank, prisoner of war camp code, and at least one other unidentified variable.


Title - White House Office of Records Management Subject File folder SP735 (8), 03/22/1983
Scope and Content Note - This file contains material relating to the nationally televised speech in which Ronald Reagan publicly proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).




A Record Group or Collection Scope and Content Note should be a general, brief summary of the broad topics and/or records types in the series that make up the record group or collection. Do not list all of the series in the Record Group or Collection, and avoid duplicating information that exists at the Series level.

The record group consists of textual records, maps, charts, and aerial and still photographs created and/or compiled by the United States Forest Service. The materials generally relate to forest management, protection, research and experimentation, in addition to timber industry and management, fishing industry and management, watershed management, wildlife management, recreation management, land use and management, flood prevention, work of the regional forest offices, and management of the national forests throughout the United States.

The material contained in this collection reflects the Office of Science and Technology's focus on five major issues: increasing government commitment to basic research; evaluating the impact of federal regulations on the economy; providing analyses of national energy policies; establishing a science and technology exchange agreement between the U.S. and the People's Republic of China; and promoting industrial innovation.
This collection of donated historical materials consists of files maintained by Gerald M. Rafshoon's Atlanta-based advertising agency. The materials relate to the agency's work advising Jimmy Carter in his successful 1970 gubernatorial campaign, as well as his 1976 presidential campaign and his 1980 bid for re-election.
This collection consists of the personal papers of the writer Ernest Hemingway. These papers include approximately 90% of the known extant Hemingway manuscripts of novels, short stories, newspaper articles, and unpublished pieces; thousands of communications to and from Hemingway; thousands more pages of miscellaneous documents and items such as fishing logs, bullfight tickets, and books and manuscripts of his contemporaries; over 10,000 photographs; and Hemingway's personal collection of clippings and journals covering his entire career. The collection was given to the Kennedy Library by Hemingway's widow, Mary Hemingway. It also includes similar materials from her custody of the collection after his death until her death in 1986 and manuscripts for Ernest Hemingway's work published after his death.




A series or file unit will often be varied in content and format. Describe the archival materials in these groupings with a summary explanation of the contents, resulting in a fairly general description.

At each level of description, usually indicate the level being described by using an introductory phrase such as "This series consists of" or "This file unit contains."

Scope and Content Note should contain information about: who created the archival materials, who the archival materials are about, (i.e., to what person or organization they relate,) who contributed to the production or authorship of the archival materials and what their relationship is to the activities documented; what the archival materials are generally about, what the main topics or subjects mentioned are, and what unusual or historically significant topics are mentioned in addition to the main topics presented; where the action or events take place, what specific geographic places or areas are mentioned; how the information is recorded, what record types are included, and how the information is presented. If appropriate, Scope and Content Note can mention general time periods (e.g., "post-World War II," "during the first Reagan administration," "the years leading up to the Spanish-American War," "the period between Texas' independence from Mexico and its annexation to the United States," etc.)

Do not use Scope and Content Note to capture the specific date ranges when the archival materials were created, used, or maintained by the organization or individual, why the archival materials were created, or what activities and functions caused them to be created.

Do not use Scope and Content Note to capture information that belongs in other data elements, such as Function and Use, Arrangement, the Access Restriction Elements, Technical Access Requirements Note, Custodial History Note, Container List, Shot List, Coverage Start Date, Coverage End Date, Inclusive Start Date, Inclusive End Date, or Date Note.

Do not use Scope and Content Note to capture information about the history or activities of the creating organization, or biographical information about an individual. This information belongs in the authority record for the organization or individual.

If appropriate, enter information about related records, but not if the relationship is simply one of subject or provenance.


Key topics, people, organizations, geographic places, languages, and records types mentioned in Scope and Content Note should be identified in the narrative and assigned as terms in the access points. Items identified in Scope and Content Note should have a corresponding subject term, name, place, language, or record type in one or more of the following controlled-vocabulary elements.

Specific Records Type Organizational Reference
Geographic Reference Personal Reference
Subject Reference Organizational Contributor
Language Personal Contributor


The creating organization or creating individual is responsible for the creation, accumulation, or maintenance of the series when in working (primary) use. Do not include agency history, personal biographies, or other information about the creators in Scope and Content Note (submit this information for inclusion in the proper authority file.). However, when there are three or more creators and at least two of the creators have overlapping dates, an explanation of the relationship between the creators and the records must be added. The explanation should describe the relationship of the creators to the records not to each other.

The records were originally maintained by the Passport Clerk. The Bureau of Accounts had responsibility for these records from July 11, 1895 to July 2, 1902 after which the Passport Bureau assumed responsibility for the records.


Some case files were created by the U.S. District Courts for the Elkins and Philippi Divisions of the Northern District of West Virginia but transferred to Fairmont Division in 1938.


These records were originally maintained by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ's new Alien Property Bureau assumed responsibility for them in 1934, responsibility was then transferred to the Office of Alien Property Custodian in 1941, and finally to the Office of Alien Property in 1946.





Contributors are responsible for the intellectual, technical, artistic, design or financial production of the archival materials.

Explain the roles of the people or organizations that have contributed to the archival materials. When describing organizational records at the Series Level, the person or particular position in an organization that created the archival materials can be included. Scope and Content Note may list that person's name and/or position title as a contributor to the creation of the series. This is appropriate information for official files created by a single government functionary or office holder.

Write the full name of the contributor as it appears in the material, even though it may vary slightly from the controlled name used in Personal Contributor or Organizational Contributor.

The series consists of photographic reports compiled by Harold Weaver, and illustrates forest management on Indian reservation forests of Washington and Oregon, mainly on the Colville Reservation where Weaver was Forest Supervisor before becoming Regional Forester. There are a few photos of California and Montana forests as well as reports of scientific field trips.

[From the series: Photographic Reports by Harold Weaver, Forester; creator: Bureau of Indian Affairs.]


Although most of the Lloyd Norton Cutler material filed here came directly from the Counsel's Office at the end of the administration, some is from White House Central File, Oversized Attachments and White House Central File, Confidential File, Oversized Attachments. Folders with bracketed titles contain material from unlabeled folders, unfiled material and material that came from the White House designated as "Too Late to File." The latter material was interfiled with the White House Staff Office material by the staff of the Carter Library and bears a "Too Late to File" stamp.


The folder title list reveals Cutler's extensive involvement in the 1980 campaign, Canadian fisheries, the 1980 Olympics, and the Iranian hostage crisis.
[From the series: Lloyd Norton Cutler Files; creator: Records of the White House Office of Counsel to the President (Carter Administration)]


The same person or organization may be both a contributor and a subject of the records. If so, indicate this in Scope and Content Note.

This series consists of textual material that includes newspaper articles, press releases, informational booklets, publications, and advertisements; many of which were submitted by the manufacturers of the equipment. The documents describe new technology, equipment, and the history of radio and communication. The companies represented in this series include Western Union, AT&T, Press Wireless, American Radio Relay League, Civil Aeronautics Administration, Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Western Electric, General Electric, Motorola, and Bendix Radio.
[From the series: Textual Records Related to the Survey of Radio Use in the United States; creator: Federal Communications Commission.]




There are two models for writing Scope and Content Note.

The first model lists all record types together in order of the material's arrangement, or from most numerous to least numerous. This is followed by a description of the subject content of the materials, often beginning with the phrase, "The materials relate to... ."

The second Scope and Content Note model lists each record type separately, followed by the subject content of that record type. This model links together the specific records types with their subject content, showing what types of documents contain which topics. This type of narrative description is most appropriate for description at the Series Level, particularly when describing series with many file units.

This series consists of correspondence, memoranda, reports, summaries, military briefs, policy statements, research notes, routing slips, and maps. The materials relate to civil disturbances; the Vietnam War; awards, badges, decorations, and citations awarded to Army personnel; Army organizations and tactical units; armed forces requirements for national defense; prisoners of war and troops missing in action; and research, development, and acquisition of air defense and ground missiles.


This series consists of notes and land surveys by the scientists at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, which detail their assessments of the status of biological resources at regions across the country. The series also consists of field reports, reconnaissance reports, and wildlife analysis reports that document whether the scientists recommended or advised against the establishment of wildlife refuges. Photographs and numerous hand written and published maps of potential wildlife refuge areas are found throughout the series as well.




Enter information about the specific records types, such as reports, minutes, correspondence, speeches, questionnaires, or drawings.

A uniform set of documents, such as census records, is composed of only one Specific Records Type. Describe the documents with more specific terms to indicate the kinds of information recorded in the documents.

This series of claims case files includes cables, completed claims forms, correspondence, memorandums, minutes, photographs, reports, and transcripts of proceedings.


The census books usually show the name of the head of the family, the number of individuals in the family, the number of males and females, the number of those between 5 and 20 years of age who did not attend school during the year, the number of Indians who could read and use conversational English, the number of dwellings built and occupied, the number of church members, the number of males over 18, the number of females over 14, and the number of school children aged 6 to 16. Additional data available from the census books include vital statistics on each family member; details on farm value, production, and size; and the amount of roadwork done.




Indicate if the archival materials have been annotated. Annotations are notes added to the materials as comments or explanations.

The secretaries outside the Oval Office prepared President Johnson's Daily Diary. A particular person would "work" the Diary for a scheduled period. In a column labeled "Telephone" the secretary would indicate with a "t" [to] that the call was made by the President to the person listed in the diary or with an "f" [from] that the call originated with the person listed. She would also indicate if it were long distance or local. She would annotate the entry with "pl" if the call was made on a "private line" which was wired directly to a phone in the office of an aide or associate. Calls that were recorded on the dictabelt recording system are often annotated with a belt number indicating which belt the secretary used to record the call. The secretaries frequently included their own observations in the Diary. Entries may include brief quotes from the President's conversations, narratives describing the President's trips and activities at the LBJ Ranch, anecdotal information, and descriptions of the President's reactions to people and events.




At the Series and File Unit Levels, Scope and Content Note orients the user toward the breadth of the archival materials, and also provides information about significant gaps in the materials.

As visits and telephone calls occurred, the secretary "working" the Diary would note them; occasionally the secretary missed noting a call or meeting. White House staff who worked closely with the President frequently entered the Oval Office without the visit being noted in the Diary. Information about guests at social functions was taken from the guest lists, and a last minute cancellation could cause an error in the Diary.


Passenger lists were not required for either outbound voyages to foreign posts or for coastwise voyages between U.S. ports.


This series does not include case files that were cancelled, rejected, or relinquished. The Bureau of Land Management maintained such files as a separate series. Some of these files are in NARA's regional facilities, while others are presumed to be still in the agency's custody.



  • Be aware of how gaps in the materials are described. Do not describe what is not present. Avoid references to information that result in "false hits" in searching an automated system. For example, if a series has information about all major wars fought by the United States in the 20th century except for one, do not use the following language: "These materials relate to all wars fought by the United States in the twentieth century, except for the Persian Gulf War." Instead, write this sentence as follows: "These materials relate to the following wars fought by the United States in the twentieth century: World War I, World War II, Korean War, and the Vietnamese Conflict."
  • Place information to describe gaps in dates in Date Note.




If a series consists of a number of publications and Title refers to the content or purpose of the publications, such as "Journals Used in Foreign Relations Work," then the actual publication titles may be listed in Scope and Content Note.




A scope and content note written for an item allows for a greater level of detail than will a description at a higher level. In general, follow the guidance for writing Series Level and File Unit Level scope and content notes when writing Item Level scope and content notes. However, a single document or item is more likely devoted to a single topic or theme, so an item is described in much more specific terms. This type of description is called "abstracting," and allows for an enriched and informative representation of the item. It does not imply, however, that an Item Level scope and content note needs to be more lengthy than those at higher levels.

This item is a letter from J. F. Bando of Brooklyn, New York, to Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the letter, Bando expresses his opinions regarding President Roosevelt's first "Fireside Chat" radio address to the United States on March 12, 1933.




At the Item Level, individual contributors may be especially significant. If an item uses a non-specific phrase to indicate the contributor, such as "presented by," then enter the phrase exactly as it appears on the item.


The following people and organizations contributed to the production of this film: Producer, Owen Grump; Co-producer, Disabled American Veterans/Treasury Department/Department of Defense/Association of Motion Pictures Producers; Editor, Jack Kampchroer; Writer, Charles Welbourne.
The following information was on the video label: "Production Company, Department of Agriculture; Credits: Subject matter, A. C. Rose; direction, C. A. Lindstrom, camera, Eugene Tucker."



Individual oral history interviews

Write an objective note describing the general content, nature, and scope of the oral history interview. Scope and Content Note may include, but is not limited to:

  • geographic area discussed
  • names of persons discussed
  • summary of subject content: description of events, conditions, objects, and activities, with locations when possible
  • opinions and attitudes expressed about the informant or others
  • personal recollections about other people
  • brief indication of the subject matter of illustrative stories and anecdotes
John Doe discusses his role as head chauffeur in the Kennedy White House; his recollections of the Washington, D. C., parties attended by John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy; his responsibilities in the White House garage and motor pool; and his recollections of conversations with President Kennedy during the Bay of Pigs invasion crisis in Cuba in 1961.


Jim Fallows discusses his role in the White House as speechwriter and recollects his conversations with President Carter regarding peace in the Middle East.



Photographs and other graphic materials

Write an objective narrative summary of the content, meaning, or iconography of a single item. Information that places the material in a proper context and conjectural statements may be included.


The photograph depicts a groundbreaking ceremony for new picnic areas in Yellowstone National Park. Pictured are President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush holding a shovel.
This item is a two-panel cartoon in which the first panel shows politicians extending an invitation to William Howard Taft to run for president. The second panel shows the same politicians angrily condemning Taft for his platform.
This item is a sketch of Union troops charging toward Kennesaw, Georgia.



Original captions for graphic materials

The original caption found on a photograph or other graphic materials may also be included in Scope and Content Note. Introduce the caption with the phrase "Original caption", followed by a colon, a space, then the caption title. In this instance, an incomplete sentence is acceptable.

In transcription of the original caption, generally do not complete abbreviated words or names. If it is otherwise difficult to understand, fill in the whole name or word, enclosing the additional letters in square brackets.


Original caption: 351st Field Artillery Troops on the Deck of the "Louisville." Part of the Squadron "A" 351st Field Artillery, troops who returned on the Transport Louisville. These men are mostly from Pennsylvania.
Original caption: Picket outpost.
Original caption: Pan-Am[erican Exposition] emergency hospital nurses.



Moving image materials (motion pictures and videorecordings)

Write a narrative summary of the content of the motion picture film or videorecording to give the researchers a good idea of what to expect when they view the work. Include information about the work's genre (e.g., documentary, comedy, or drama), and about persons, geographic locations, scenes, and activities depicted in the work.

The film has views of construction work on the Hoover Dam. Most footage is taken from a moving vehicle near the dam site and has scenes of countryside, construction machinery, and construction utility buildings.
The newsreel contains panoramic views of Indian reservations in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
The documentary, narrated by actor Richard Boone, recounts the history of exploration and settlement of the American West in a chronological manner. It includes accounts of the Lewis and Clark expedition, fur trading, mountain men, frontier life, the Santa Fe Trail, settling and the crossing of the Great Plains, migrations to Oregon and California, subduing of the Indians, mining, the establishment of law and order, work with cattle, the arrival of modern transportation, and industrial innovations, and the closing of the frontier in the 1890s.



Content titles for moving image materials

The titles of individual parts of moving image materials described at the Item Level, especially the content titles of motion pictures and videorecordings, may be included in Scope and Content Note.

If known, include information about the authorship and the duration of items. Describe the authorship information after the title. Duration information follows the title or the authorship statement (if there is one).

Segment 1: C-SPAN (Part Two) House Foreign Relations Committee "Testimony on FSX" Sec. Mosbacher and Sec. Chaney 5/3/89, (60:00 minutes) -- Segment 2: C-SPAN (Part Three) House Foreign Relations Committee "Testimony on FSX" Sec. Mosbacher and Sec. Chaney 5/3/89, (60:00 minutes)



Write an objective summary of the content of a sound recording (other than one that consists entirely or predominantly of music).

This item is a recording of the memoirs of Stanford Caldwell Hooper, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Retired). Adm. Hooper, along with some of his former associates, discuss the history of naval radio in the United States, from its advent in the early part of the 20th, through some of the developments during and immediately after World War II. The recording also contains Hooper's reading of a speech, entitled "Naval air-power and electronics" given by R.W. Ruble at the Sheraton Park Hotel.
This item is a recording of speeches from his presidential campaign, read by George H.W. Bush just before leaving office.
This item is a dramatized examination of the culture of the Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest with special attention on the Potlatch ceremony and their system of justice.
This item is a recording of actor George C. Scott reading the preamble of the United States Constitution during Fourth of July celebrations at the National Archives in Washington, DC.



Content titles for sound recordings

The titles of individual parts of sound recordings may also be included in Scope and Content Note. If known, include information about the authorship and the duration of items. Describe the authorship information after the title. Duration information follows the title or the authorship statement (if there is one).

The fourth millennium / Henry Brant (9 minutes) - Music for brass quintet (14 minutes)



Write an objective summary of the nature or scope of a single cartographic item or architectural drawing or plan, making special mention of unusual or unexpected features of the item.

This item is a map of Curacao, Dutch Antilles, showing sailing ships, row houses, and forts.
This item is an aerial view of a land use map for the proposed development of new suburbs in College Park, Maryland. The location of the National Archives and Records Administration is noted with "NARA" in red print.
This item is a map of Nicaragua, showing the location of actions involving U.S. Marines during the revolution of 1926-29.
This item is a measured technical drawing showing the Capitol building as a site plan with perspective projection.
This item is a preliminary drawing showing the proposed exterior and interiors of the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The technical drawing on the left includes specifications for the spiral staircase, windows, lantern house, and beacon device. The color image on the right shows the black and white spiral day mark proposed for the exterior of the lighthouse.


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