A finding aid is a tool that describes the organization and contents of a collection. It can help you determine whether a collection will be of use to you, and if so, how to navigate the collection in your research. Finding aids may be very detailed or very general, but they will never tell you all you need to know about the items in a collection.
The following may appear on finding aids, although not all organizations use the same elements on their finding aids:
Title Page: Name of Institution, name of collection, date range
Collection Summary: Creator of materials, physical extent, location information, abstract
Background Information: This gives you an understanding of why the collection was created.
Scope and Content: A more detailed summary of the contents.
Arrangement: Chronological? Alphabetical? Hierarchical?
Subject and Index Terms: This tells you the concepts, people, places, and things discussed in the collection.
Access Notes: Information on restrictions to use of the collection.
Box and Folder List: The nitty gritty of what is actually in the collection.