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Paper Document Sorting? Answered

So say you have to sort a lot of papers that need to be in a single stack in a specific order. Any idea how hard it would be to rig one of these up, or if its even worth it? Maybe someone sells one that I just haven't found. A simple google search doesn't really bring up anything remotely close (i.e. mechanical sorting, document sorting, business automation machines, or mix of the above terms). Any ideas? Thanks in advance.


Use a simplified version of the merge sort algorithm. I did things like this when I was a teaching assistant and had to sort student papers. I should make an instructable at some point.

You need lots of space. The floor is good.

Take your stack of papers. Then grab 8-15 of them. Sort those. It is a quick process for a human to sort such a small number of papers--you basically just put down one, then get the next one and decide where the it fits relative to it, and repeat. It's easier if the number is smaller, but you'll need more space on the floor. You'll have to see what is an easy number for you to quickly sort by hand.

Put the sorted pile face-up somewhere safe. Then grab the next pile of 8-15 papers. Don't worry about counting them--just approximately the same size will do. Sort that pile and put it face-up somewhere safe. Repeat until all of the big pile has been divided into sorted sub-piles.

Now take two of your sorted piles and merge them into a single larger sorted pile. With practice this is a fast process. You can put the piles face up, or hold them in separate hands. You see which of the two face-up papers comes first in order, and put that one down face-down. Now you have two face-up papers again (one of them was already face-up), and see which comes first, and put it down on top of the one before. Repeat until you're done with the two smaller piles and have a larger pile. Then turn it face-up and up it in a new area of the floor for larger piles.

Then take two more of the smaller piles and merge them. Repeat until you're done. If you had an odd number of piles, don't worry about that, just put it in the area of the floor where you were putting the larger piles.

Now take the larger piles two-by-two and merge them into yet larger piles.

Repeat until you are left with one pile.

Let say you started with a stack of 300 papers, and divided them into piles of 10. Then you'd be sorting 30 piles of 10 first, which is kind of annoying, but easy. Next step you'll merge the 30 piles into 15 piles. Next step you'll merge the 15 piles into 8 piles (one will be untouched). Then 8 to 4, and 4 to 2, and 2 to 1. All can be done pretty fast.

If the papers have to be sorted by content (e.g. invoices by date or vendor), you're going to be much more efficient doing it by hand with a simple document sorter.

Doing it automatically requires multiple complex technologies, including image parsing (to find the information on the document), OCR, and paper handling/feeding. Picture building a large copy machine from scratch. All of these exist, of course (the first two are part of those "executive toy" business-card scanners).

Yep. Scanner/Printer based copy machine with collator output is a good analogy; that's very much the kind of paper handling that would be needed. In fact, given a scanner with sheet-feed and a printer, you could consider generating sorted copies rather than sorting the originals; that would avoid needing to build new hardware.

But -- yep -- you'd need to OCR every page, at least enough to extract the information you need to perform the sort on.

Unless you are doing a LOT of this, it isn't worth automating. Humans are remarkably efficient paper-handling and OCR systems. The trick is developing systems that minimize how often you need to examine every page. Racks/tabs/piles, and either a sub-sort or insertion-sort strategy, will work pretty darned well. If necessary, find friends to help -- divide the task up, then mergesort the separate results.

Yeah sounds like its more complicated than I thought. On average I have to sort a pile of 100-200 pages / day before I can get to my real work, I don't know if that's considered a lot but it is rather unpleasant. Thanks

Personally, I always enjoyed the mindless task of sorting to break up what was usually far more intellectually challenging work of engineering, but it's been years since I needed to sort much paper, except for the occasional cleanup when I've been on am internet printing binge.

Honestly a couple hundred pages isn't all that much.. fwiw, I'd suggest that you find a way to enjoy it.

What do you mean by "in a specific order", what type of papers?




7 years ago

Pre computer days, long long ago, the military developed a method of sorting but it was more for specific selection rather than ordering. To explain: they used a system of data cards with notches along the sides. Lets say you have 500 cards, for 500 men and you wanted to select out of that group all the ones who are not married. Each card has a notch that is either closed or open for single or married. They would take a rod and insert it into the married notch and then lift it up. All the married cards would be lifted out leaving all the single cards behind. Using this method they could quickly sort a large database for specific traits. But this is for selection, and not for sorting like what you are looking for. You could adapt something similar for papers but you would have to incorporate the info into each one first. This would work then for a situation where you knocked over a stack and needed to reorder it but it would not speed up a one time sorting.


7 years ago

IBM did it for sorting chad riddled paper a long time ago,
get permission to adapt or get lawyers if you are on ego.