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United Nations Research Guide: United Nations Documentation

Guide to information created by the UN and the UN Family of Organizations. Grateful acknowledgement to Jim Church, University of California Berkeley Libraries, whose work is the basis for this guide.

UN Documents Symbols

United Nations Documents Symbols

The United Nations has its own classification system for documents.  UN Masthead Documents (memoranda, studies, working papers, agendas, draft resolutions and decisions, and other meeting records) almost all receive an official symbol.

Official Records of the United Nations include speeches given at the General assembly, summary records of main committees, and regular reports on the activities of subsidiary organs or agencies. Sometimes official records are abbreviated GAOR (General Assembly Official Records) SCOR (Security Council Official Records) and ESCOR (Economic & Social Council Official Records. 

The UN classification system is alphanumeric is arranged hierarchically. It really helps to understand this system when scanning lists of documents for possible relevance. 

Leading Elements for United Nations Principal Organs

A/-                      General Assembly
E/-                      Economic and Social Council
S/-                       Security Council
T/-                      Trusteeship Council
ST/-                    Secretariat

Additional Leading Elements for Other UN bodies:

DP/-                    United Nations Development Programme
FCCC/-              Framework Convention on Climate Change
ICEF/-                United Nations Children’s Fund
TD/-                   UN Conference on Trade & Development
UNEP/-              United Nations Environment Programme

Elements Denoting Subsidiary Organs

-/AC.../-              Ad hoc committee
-/C.../-                 Standing main sessional committee
-/CN…/-            Commission
-/SC…/-             Subcommittee
-/WP…/-            Working Party

Elements Denoting the Nature of the Document

-/INF/-                Information Series
-/MIN/-              Minutes
-/PV/-                 Verbatim Records of Meetings
-/RES/-               Text of adopted resolutions
-/SR/-                 Summary records of meetings

Elements Denoting Modifications or Restrictions

-/Add…             Addendum
-/Amend…        Amendment
-/Corr…             Correction
-/Rev…              Revision
-/L…                  Limited Distribution

Unique ID Number

A/50/485
E/CN.4/Sub.2/SR.5
S/1995/RES/25

Sample UN Documents Symbols:

A/49/100                       
A/49/100/Add.1            
A/55/PV.41                   
E/CN.2/1994/AC.1
E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/1
S/1996/1
S/RES/1376

UN Documentation

The UN publishes an immense amount of material, much of which is ephemeral. One trick is to rely on expert summaries that can be found in the following sources:

Declarations and Conventions Contained in General Assembly resolutions. Declarations and Conventions adopted by a General Assembly resolution from 1946.

Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs. Comprehensive summary of the decisions of United Nations Organs together with review of related material, organized by Charter Articles.

Resolutions and Decisions:

United Nations Official Documents System (ODS). Full-text database of United Nations documents since 1993, as well as resolutions of the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council and the Trusteeship from 1946.

UN-I-QUE. Reference database providing quick access to UN document symbols, focusing on documents of a recurrent nature: annual and periodic reports of commissions, legislative debates, etc.

UN Meetings Coverage and Press Releases.  From October 1995. Press Releases are not official documents but provide timely information on the current activities of the principal organs and subsidiary bodies, including summaries of meetings.

UN Member States: On the Record.  Links to standard searches for Member States in UN databases with key documents related to membership in the UN; statements before the principal organs; draft resolutions sponsored; periodic reports submitted on Human Rights conventions, and more.

United Nations Yearbook Collection. Highly recommended as a starting point. UN Documentation is immense: the Yearbook provides a summary of key events and citations to important documents. Start with this for most UN research. 

The United Nations system of documentation is as complex as the UN system of Organizations. The Regulations for the Control and Limitation of Documentation define documents and publications:

  • "A document is a text submitted to a principal organ or a subsidiary organ of the United Nations for consideration by it, usually in connection with item(s) on its agenda."
  • "''United Nations publication' refers to any written material which is issued by the United Nations to the general public."

UN Documents are in other words all the papers, meeting records, and official transcipts produced by the UN as it conducts its business.  Many other international organizations -- for example the WTO, UNESCO, and the FAO -- also have systems of documentation.

UN Publications are material the UN publishes with the intent of informing the general public and the academic community about its work and issues it wishes to address.

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