Even though manuscripts and archives are often thought of as raw and unmediated materials, a lot actually goes into arranging them for researchers. Understanding how the materials are arranged will help you to be a more efficient researcher.
Manuscript and archival collections are usually described in Finding Aids.
Finding Aid - 1. A tool that facilitates discovery of information within a collection of records. – 2. A description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.*
A finding aid describes where an archival collection came from, gives a synoposis of the creator's history, and provides an inventory of the collection. This is an example of the "Collection Contents" section of a Finding Aid:
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