Email Management

From Recordkeeping 101 we know that electronic records are the SAME as paper records as far as retention applies.   Electronic records fit into the same two courses of actions with records:  archiving or destruction.   Most of us don't think about moving our electronic records to the Archives.  However, freeing up storage space and moving to Archives for those electronic records that are ready to be transferred is a prudent move.  

Email is the electronic record created in the greatest quantity and used by the most people, but it is also one of the hardest formats to deal with from a records management perspective.  Email retention is important as Microsoft Outlook retains emails as long as you have an open account, access it at last once a month, do not exceed your storage limits.   You essentially retain all of your emails for the duration of employment with the University.

This page will attempt to provide some guidance for dealing with e-mail issues in order to prepare them for transferring to archives or destruction, depending on their Record Schedule and content.

Email Management and Filing

As with all records, you should pick a file structure that suits the needs of your office and consistently use that structure.    When sending emails, think about how you can best locate this email later.  There are some considerations that may help you with managing your emails as records.  File structure standards also make it easy for Archives to locate electronic records later down the road.  For email retention and search capabilities, the subject line is the most critical component.  In addition, the following standards are also helpful:

  1. Use information-rich subjects. Using detailed subjects helps with both searching and visible identification of relevant emails. 
  2. Avoid Acronyms unless they are common to the University.
  3. Include a date component in whatever file structure you use. This helps you determine at a glance when a group of emails was created, which can assist in applying proper disposition.
  4. Be consistent.
  5. Keep personal and transitory email in separate folders from record emails. In addition to being good business and organization practice, keeping personal email away from your records lessens the likelihood that it will be produced by electronic discovery for public records requests or subpoenas.
Subject Line Examples Improper  Subject Line Labeling
Faculty Senate Agenda February 23, 2022
Executive Committee Minutes 11/06/2008
Certificate of Insurance Boy Scouts 1/19/2022
February Agenda
COI for BSA                                                   

If you are like most of us, email folders are generally unique to the user.  However, they can always be updated BEFORE being sent to the Archives.  Consider naming by retention schedule, particular in conjunction with date folders.  If you prefer filing by subject or project name, remember that the nature of electronic filing systems means that you can still sort by retention schedule at the next level down.
Email Folder Examples Improper Folder Labeling
Compliance Policy Review 2021
HR Training 2021
UWADM018 Agendas/Minutes:  Executive Committee
Executive Meetings                                                       

UW-System General Records Schedules for Email Communications

The Business Communications Record Schedule covers all forms of communications, including voicemail, text messages, instant message logs, and email.  This schedule retention is between 7 days and 6 months for a quick timeline. 

Business Communication: Transitory

Transitory Communications are messages with no business value after the information contained in the message has been conveyed or superseded, or the event to which the message is related has occurred. Examples include scheduling emails, courtesy copies, superseded drafts of a project, and routine information requests (e.g. "What hours are you open?").
Retention: Destroy after 7 days.

Business Communication: Routine

Routine Communications comprise the normal communication that occurs when university employees, and sometimes their colleagues who are not university employees, work together to transact public business on behalf of the University of Wisconsin System. Examples include routine decision-making emails, sent copies of reports for review and comment, detailed information requests requiring research, and correspondence between students and professors.
Retention: Destroy after 6 months.

Historically-Significant Email

The vast majority of email sent and received by most users falls into one of the categories with temporary retention, above. However, a very small number of emails are historically significant and should be preserved for eventual transfer to the Archives. Historically-significant email generally sets or interprets policy, formalizes business processes, documents decision-making, or provides evidence of the activities of an office or department. The Archives can help you identify these types of emails. When in doubt, hold onto it!