In the following sentence, a reviewer claimed that record keeping is a spelling error that should be corrected to recordkeeping.

Service providers shall manage information using agreed upon metadata tags that can be adapted to changing missions and record keeping practices.

My dictionary (and Dictionary.com) list recordkeeping as a noun only, so I am inclined to say that the spelling should be record-keeping since the term serves as an adjective (I would use record keeping for the verb form). I can find no "definitive" source to cite.

In a Google query, at least one Yahoo Answers article agrees with me, but I could probably find ones that do not. This article also claims that recordkeeping is a financial term not widely used in other contexts. A Google ngram search doesn't resolve the issue, but record keeping is more popular.

What is the preferred spelling in the quoted sentence? Is recordkeeping a financial term? Does anyone have a source I can cite in my response to the commenter other than Yahoo Answers?

  • 1
    BusinessDictionary.com certainly uses the closed compound attributively (as a noun used as if it were an adjective): recordkeeping system. But CAP recommends you use record-keeping if used attributively (but the solid form for the noun used as a noun). I've even seen the open form, but this could lead to confusion when used attributively. Oct 8 '14 at 14:37
  • Ignore any reviewers that give such useless advice as that. Mar 19 '15 at 12:34
  • I've come across this same question when reviewing documents for our agency. Our Legal Division staff can't even agree. Each attorney seems to have their preference. The same goes for our English professional. They have even stated that so many things that used to be set "rules" have changed to "writer's choice" over time, and this is one of those cases. All of the above are considered correct.
    – user150553
    Dec 7 '15 at 21:34
  • Observation: It's unfortunate that the hyphenated 'writing-style' tag is applied to this question. The stackexchange hyphenated tag guideline (requirement?) will get some people to start using hyphens where they are not advisable or just downright wrong. FWIW, I come down on the side of recordkeeping or record-keeping (against record keeping). The existing answers cover it fairly well, so my take does not merit 'answer level' status, especially since it's less of a informed take than a preference. The scorekeeping, beekeeping, goalkeeping comparisons resonate.
    – Juan
    Feb 1 '19 at 2:14

I think it's a mistake to characterize as "a spelling error" a decision that I may happen to disagree with about whether to hyphenate, leave open, or close up a term such as record keeping. The dispute is over the style of presentation of the term, not its spelling; and the preference of the author or publishing house is about as deep as you can fruitfully go in inquiring into its legitimacy.

Is E-mail misspelled? How about Email? Or e-mail? Or email? Or for that matter, E mail or e mail? The answers, I believe, are no, no, no, no, and no no. Some forms may be clearer than others in certain circumstances (as Edwin Ashworth points out in a comment above), some may be generally less common (and therefore less immediately recognizable to a reader), and one may have won the heart of its writer or editor—but nobody can seriously argue that any of these spellings is generally susceptible to being mistaken for any other term.

The same is true of record keeping, record-keeping, and recordkeeping in your sentence:

Service providers shall manage information using agreed upon metadata tags that can be adapted to changing missions and record keeping [or record-keeping or recordkeeping] practices.

Given the choice, I would probably use recordkeeping or record-keeping to avoid giving readers even the slightest pause to confirm that record isn't being used as an adjective in the sense of "all-time high" or "never-before-achieved," but I have no doubt that any competent reader of English prose will understand the intended meaning of the phrase "record keeping practices" regardless of how record and keeping are attached or separated.


Upkeeping, goalkeeping, housekeeping, recordkeeping. Seems like the precedent has been set. I can't think of any type of "keeping" that is stand-alone, or has an adjective independent from the noun "keeping" that can't be combined to form one word.

  • Yes that seems to be the trend. beekeeping/beekeeper, scorekeeping/scorekeeper. And, most relevant to financial contexts: bookkeeping/bookkeeper. Feb 7 '15 at 7:01

According to the grammarbook site's page on hyphens (http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/hyphens.asp), rule 1 states that you should hyphenate. That's my take anyway.

  • 1
    No it doesn't. It says that's the general (ie most usual) choice, which works for many compounds. APA style has a more detailed rule: <<General Principle 1: Do not use a hyphen unless it serves a purpose. If a compound adjective cannot be misread or, as with many psychological terms, its meaning is established, a hyphen is not necessary. For example covert learning techniques / health care reform / day treatment programs / ex role differences / grade point average...>>. Oct 8 '14 at 18:47
  • 1
    And Wikipedia has: <<There are some well-established permanent compound modifiers that have become solid over a longer period, especially in American usage: earsplitting, eyecatching, and downtown [an earsplitting scream]. However, in British usage, these, apart from downtown, are more likely written with a hyphen. [an ear-splitting scream].>> Mignon Fogarty wisely advises: [M]y advice is to check a dictionary or style guide [when unsure about a particular compound]. Oct 8 '14 at 18:50

record keeping is the way it is usually said.

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    – choster
    Oct 9 '14 at 6:03

As an FYI, neither recordkeeping nor record-keeping are in the Merriam-Webster or American Heritage dictionaries. Therefore, record keeping is probably the correct way to spell this word.

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