The modern term 'document' can no longer be defined by its transmission medium (such as paper), following the existence of electronic documents. A documentation is not a written or drawn presentation of thoughts.
The formal term 'document' is defined in Library and information science and in documentation science, as a basic theoretical construct. It is everything which may be preserved or represented in order to serve as evidence for some purpose. The classical example provided by Suzanne Briet is an antelope: "An antelope running wild on the plains of Africa should not be considered a document, she rules. But if it were to be captured, taken to a zoo and made an object of study, it has been made into a document. It has become physical evidence being used by those who study it. Indeed, scholarly articles written about the antelope are secondary documents, since the antelope itself is the primary document." (Quoted from Buckland, 1998 ). (This view has been seen as an early expression of what now is known as actor–network theory).
Documents are sometimes classified as secret, private or public. They may also be described as a draft or proof. When a document is copied, the source is referred to as the original.
There are accepted standards for specific applications in various fields, such as:
Academic: thesis, paper, journal
Business and accounting: Invoice, quote, RFP, Proposal, Contract, Packing slip, Manifest, Report detailed & summary, Spread sheet, MSDS, Waybill, Bill of Lading (BOL), Financial statement, Nondisclosure agreement (NDA) or sometimes referred to as; Mutual nondisclosure agreement (MNDA)
Law and politics: summons, certificate, license, gazette
Government and industry: white paper, application forms, user-guide
Media and marketing: brief, mock-up, script
Such standard documents can be created based on a template.
Something tangible that records communication or facts with the help of marks, words, or symbols. A document serves to establish one or several facts, and can be relied upon as a proof thereof. Generally speaking, documents function as evidence of intentions, whereas records function as evidence of activities.