What Is a Cross-Reference System?

By M.T. Wroblewski; Updated April 24, 2017
Filing isn't always as clear-cut as it seems.

If you've hunted high and low for a document only to find it at some other time in a perfectly logical place, you could benefit from a cross-reference system. As a student with many projects and research projects in your future, a simple, straightforward cross-referencing system can help keep you organized with an efficient process.

Keep It Simple

A cross-reference system is a method in which you file a document or a note about the location of the document under multiple categories. Such a system is particularly helpful when it's not clear-cut where a specific document truly belongs. For example, you could file a research study about teenagers and cell phone usage under “teens” and “cell phones.” Or you could file the study under “teens” and insert a note under “cell phones” that says, “See study about teens and cell phones, filed under 'teens.'” It might take you a few additional minutes to create an extra record so that you keep your cross-reference system up-to-date and organized, but your investment will be well worth the time you spent.

Personalize Your System

A cross-reference system will serve you well as a student and in other pursuits, as well. If you're learning to cook, you could file recipes under multiple categories. For example, you might file a lasagne recipe under “Italian dinners” and “pasta.” The beauty of a cross-reference system is that you can and should tailor it to your needs and thinking style. If you're especially protective about a vegetarian lasagne recipe, you might even add a third category: “meatless dishes.”

About the Author

With education, health care and small business marketing as her core interests, M.T. Wroblewski has penned pieces for Woman's Day, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal and many newspapers and magazines. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.