Understanding UN document symbols allows you to find print documents in the Drew Library's “United Nations Collection”. Knowledge of these symbols also helps find documents online, since two major UN databases allow searching by series symbol (ODS and UNBISnet ).
United Nations document symbols are made up of letters, roman numerals and sometimes Arabic numerals and year dates. Different components or elements of each symbol are separated or delineated by a forward slash (/). Each component of a symbol should be read separately; symbols should be read right to left, with each succeeding component providing additional information about the document.
Components beginning with letters are compared letter by letter in alphabetic order. Numbers are always read as whole numbers, not decimals. In shelving order, numbers come before letters.
The numbers and letters in document symbols do not directly indicate the topic of the document; rather they serve to identify, in following order:
• the body or organ that issued the document – comprised of the parent body or special body.
• the subsidiary body responsible for the document - either the standing committee or subsidiary body of the parent body.
• the organizational session or year during which the document was issued
• the document type
• the unique number of the document
Not every UN document symbol contains all of the five above elements; some contain as few as two components.
Document symbols indirectly infer the topic or subject of a document by identifying the issuing body. For example, the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNCHR) has oversight for refugees; consequently, documents starting with the document symbol A/AC.96/- (the document symbol for UNCHR documents) will likely be relevant to anyone researching refugees. However, topics are not always relegated to just one committee or body. For example, numerous UN bodies, conferences and committees are concerned with women's issues.
1. Body or organ issuing the document:
- The first component in any symbol usually reflects the parent organ issuing the document or to which the document is being submitted (referred to as the series symbol):
A/- General Assembly
E/- Economic and Social Council
S/- Security Council
T/- Trusteeship Council
- Exception: some UN bodies have their own special leading component series symbols, unrelated to the parent organ. For example:
ACC/- Administrative Committee on Coordination
AT/- United Nations Administrative Tribunal
CAT/- Committee against Torture
CCPR/- Human Rights Committee
CD/- Conference on Disarmament
CEDAW/- Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
CERD/- Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
CRC/- Committee on the Rights of the Child
DC/- Disarmament Commission
DP/- United Nations Development Programme
HS/- United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (HABITAT)
TD/- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
UNEP/- United Nations Environment Programme
2. Subsidiary body:
- Letters following the main organizing body indicate the standing committee or subsidiary body responsible for the document. These letters may or may not be followed by a number; numbers indicate the number of the standing committee or subsidiary body.
-/AC.#/- Ad Hoc Committee or similar body
-/C.#/- Standing, permanent, main committee
-/GC/- Governing Council
-/PC/- Preparatory Committee
-/WG.#/- Working Group
-/WP.#/ - Working Party
- Subsidiary bodies are usually numbered in the order in which they were established. (e.g. A/C.l/- (first committee of the General Assembly); A/CN.11/- (eleventh Commission formed by the General Assembly); E/CONF.72/-- (seventy-second conference sponsored by the Economic and Social Council).
- Exception: Occasionally, the second segment indicates not the issuing sub-body but rather the type of document, as in the case of resolutions. Documents that follow the format S/RES/[number] are Security Council resolutions, and those that follow the format A/RES/[session]/[number] are General Assembly resolutions.
- Finding document symbols:
The UN Documentation: Research Guide gives document symbols for the main UN bodies.
The University of Minnesota Document AccessUN Guide provides a list of better known UN Committees and Commissions, with associated document symbols.
A partial List of subsidiary bodies of the General Assembly with corresponding document symbols is available off the Parliament page of the UN.
A partial List of subsidiary bodies of the Economic and Social Council, with corresponding document symbols is available off the Parliament page of the UN.
Use Yearbook of the United Nations to research your topic; the Yearbook often provides document symbols within the discussion of particular committees and commissions. Check the Drew Catalog for locations for this series.
3. Session number or year:
- Since 1976 (31st session), the second major element of a General Assembly document number indicates the session. Individual documents are then numbered chronologically within the session. Prior to 1976, documents are numbered continuously from the first session.
- Since 1978 (8th special session), a General Assembly special session document number includes an "S" and the number of the special session. Since 1980, emergency special session document numbers include "ES" and emergency special session number.
- Since 1978, the second major element of an Economic and Social Council document number indicates the year of a meeting, followed by a sequential number for the year.
- Since 1994, the second major element of a Security Council document.indicates the year.
4. Document type:
- * *The below symbols indicate the document type of a particular UN publication.
-/CRP. - Conference room papers
-/DEC/- Mimeograph texts of adopted decisions
-/INF/- Information series
-/MIN. - Minutes
-/NGO/- Documents containing communications from non- governmental organizations
-/PC/- preparatory committee
-/PV. - Verbatim records of meetings (proces-verbaux)
-/RES/- Mimeograph texts of adopted resolutions
-/RT/- Records of testimony
-/SR. - Summary records of meetings
-/WP.- Working paper
- The below symbols indicate that the original document has been changed:
-/Add. - Addendum
-/Amend. - Alteration, by decision of a competent authority, of a portion of an adopted formal text –
-/Corr. - Corrigendum
-/Excerpt – Reissue of excerpt of a document
-/Rev. - Revision (replacing texts previously issued)
-/Summary - Summarized version
-/-* - Reissuance of a document for technical reasons
- The below Symbol elements indicate distribution frequency or distribution:
-/L. - Limited distribution document
-/R. - Restricted (these documents are not distributed to the public)
5. Unique number
- The last component of a document symbol is a sequential number, which uniquely identifies a particular document.
Examples of document symbols:
E/1993/100 - Issued during the 1993 session of the Economic and Social Council
A/C.2/48/SR.5 Issued during the 48th session of the General Assembly's second standing committee.
T/1990/2 Issued during the 1990 session of the Trusteeship Council
A/34/355 General Assembly, 34th session, 355th general document issued in the session
A/C.3/35/L.14 General Assembly, Committee 3, 35th session, 14th limited document issued in the session
A/RES/34/102 General Assembly, 34th session, 102nd resolution
E/1980/SR.34 Economic and Social Council, a 1980 session, summary record of the 34th meeting
E/ICEF/669 Economic and Social Council, United Nations
Children's Fund (ICEF), 669th document
S/13862 Security Council. 13,862th plenary document issued. Until 1994, Security Council documents were numbered continuously from the first year.
S/1994/300 Security Council, 1994, 300th document
S/PV.2224 Security Council, Verbatim record (proces verbaux) of the 2224th plenary meeting
T/PET.10/151 Trusteeship Council. Petition concerning Pacific Islands, U.S. administration (PET.10), No. 151
The above outline of the UN's document symbols classification system has been adapted from the United Nations Documents: Research Guide DOCUMENT SYMBOLS : United Nations Documentation, from Jonsson Library of Government Documents at Stanford University,General Information, the help page for the ODS database and the Library of Congress: Guide to Accessing United Nations Publications.