Know The Differences Between Structured & Unstructured Documents

The very first question you need to address when considering intelligent document processing (IDP) is, what type of documents do you actually have. You need to tell your vendor whether you have structured, unstructured, or semi-structured documents. Don’t know what is the difference between different types of documents? Want to understand how structured and unstructured documents are different from each other? We’ve got you covered. In this blog, we will take a close look into structured vs unstructured documents along with providing you with an extensive unstructured document understanding. Keep reading!

What Are Structured Documents?

As the name suggests, structured documents are documents that come with a fixed format. Some common examples of this type of document include questionnaires, tax forms, claim forms, surveys, etc. Generally, the data in these types of documents has a fixed location. For example, the name of a person will have a designated place and the date will always be in the same place, etc. 

These are very straightforward documents and hence the technologies used for extracting data from them are very simple. All you can do is put a template with OCR that goes into the particular coordinates on your document to extract data values from fields. 

No doubt structured documents are simple, but there is an important consideration that must be addressed. A major challenge with these documents is that you need to design a template for every provider you have. For example: you need to create a template for handling tax forms, then a different one for other documents like surveys and questionnaires and so on. While this doesn’t impose much problem when the variations are limited, things start to get a little complicated as the number of variations in the structured documents increases. 

Another issue with structured documents is the frequent changes in the templates. In case the providers change the format or design of the document, you need to make those changes in your templates as well. In fact, sometimes this greatly hinders the data extraction processes. This tends to increase the overhead in terms of both time and money. 

Now that you know what structured documents are, let’s move on to increase your unstructured documents understanding!

What Are Unstructured Documents?

The documents that don’t have fixed data points or simply fixed layouts are known as unstructured documents. These are free-flow documents just like this blog that can contain any information anywhere in any format. 

Note that the data processing for the unstructured documents needs a good amount of customisation and configuration. This is important as it allows the IDP platform to understand and learn from your given documents. This usually involves customs pre-processing pipeline, machine learning training, visual recognition for components like graphs, charts and tables, and so on. 

Keep in mind that processing unstructured document understanding it requires some investment upfront. So, it’s a good idea to calculate the ROI before you get too far with the implementation. Secondly, this type of implementation takes more time as they involve a fair amount of customisations. The tip is to break the problem into multiple smaller parts and work them separately for faster results. 

Why Is It Important to Classify Structured and Unstructured Documents?

Having structured and unstructured document understanding is very important at the time of considering automation of the data extraction process. In simple words, you can’t use the right data extraction technology if you don’t know what type of document you are using. For example: an OCR, which is template based, can easily extract data from structured documents that are not subjected to frequent changes. However, it will be inefficient for extracting data from unstructured documents. In the latter case, you will require an AI-based data extraction technology that can work with the changes in the documents. 


As a user, by having structured and unstructured document understanding, you can select the right technology and solutions in the market. This will help you implement your projects in a smooth and hassle-free way. In today’s scenario, most documents are neither purely structured nor unstructured. They are usually semi-structured like bank statements, invoices, etc.

Note that Intelligent Document Processing is the best for processing such types of documents. It is fast, efficient, and relatively less complicated than the other data extraction technologies. 


Francisco Jerde