Documents in the Swiss Federal Archive are organized into eight Main Departments:
- Central Archive of the Helvetic Republic 1798-1803 (Main Department B)
- Archive of the Mediation Period 1803-1813 (Main Department C)
- Archive of the Tagsatzung Period 1814-1848 (Main Department D)
- Archive of the Federal State since 1848 (Main Department E)
- Deposits and Donations (Main Department J)
- Acts and Charters since 1798 (Main Department K)
- Collections (Main Department M)
- Copies from the 15th century and later (Main Department P)
Main Departments B, C and D, which are complete, contain documents of the various centralized federal authorities from 1798 to the foundation of the Federal State in 1848. Main Department E comprises documents of federal authorities since 1848 and continues to grow. A thematic overview of all sub-fonds in Main Department E is available at fonds overview.
Main Department J contains over 550 private archives of natural persons and legal entities.
Main Department K comprises charters and treaties since 1798 archived separately from administrative papers.
Main Department M is a collection of various documents of mostly secondary interest.
Main Department P contains a collection of copies of documents in foreign archives made since the late Middle Ages.
The Main Departments of the Swiss Federal Archives comprise the following four description levels, each identified with a special icon in Online Research:
- A fonds comprises all documents of a file-producing body or, in the case of private archives, of the depositor.
- A sub-fonds comprises all documents of a file-producing body that have been generated in accordance with a particular classification system.
- A series comprises all documents of a particular position in a classification system.
- A dossier contains documents pertaining to a business process. The dossier level is as a rule the lowest description level. The closure period is calculated on the basis of the dossier, which also serves as the order unit.