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United Nations

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Documents and Document Symbols


There are four basic types of UN documents: periodicals, sales publications, mimeographed/masthead documents, and official records. Periodicals (like the UN Chronicle) can be located by searching the indexes mentioned in this guide. Sales publications include yearbooks and annuals (Yearbook of the United Nations and Yearbook on Human Rights) serials, monographs and special studies. Mimeographed documents include provisional records of meetings, reports, resolutions, and other working documents of the UN organs. Some are republished in final corrected form in the official records or sales publications. Official records contain the meeting records of the UN organs (usually summary records, with the exception of the records of General Assembly and First Committee and Security Council meetings which are verbatim--"proces-verbaux"), annexes contain the text of agenda items (papers submitted to the organs for discussion), and supplements contain reports of subsidiary organs and resolutions. For more information on documents, see the section above on research guides.


Many of these documents can be obtained from the READEX microfiche set (in the microfiche room) or at the Wilson Government Publications Library. To use the microfiche set, you must have the document symbol and the date of the document. (See Document Indexes, below.)  Select the drawer with the year you need, then choose the appropriate organ (General Assembly, Security Council, etc.) and look for the symbol (located at the top right corner of the fiche). Fiche scanners are available.  Keep in mind that the specialized agency documents are not included in either one of these document collections.


The web is a viable vehicle for locating the full-text of documents from about 1993 onwards.



Document Symbols

Most paper and microfiche UN documents collections are arranged by the document symbol. The basic principle is that documents are identified by the issuing body. The symbols are composed of capital letters and numbers. The first letter(s) indicates the main body of the UN (A/ is the General Assembly, E/ is ECOSOC, etc.). Specific symbols after the first slash indicate the sub-body within the main body (/CN is a commission, /WP is working party, etc.).

The classification system of the United Nations is explained (with lists of the abbreviations) in many of the research guides mentioned above (for example Guide to International Legal Research). The UNDOC: Current Index (MFiche UN DOCS ST/LIB/SER.M/CUM) lists new document symbols. See also the Document Symbols section of the UN web site.

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