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Records Management

Guidelines for Email Management

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. This page will attempt to provide some guidance for dealing with e-mail issues.

UW-System General Records Schedules for Business Communications

In August 2008, the Public Records Board passed a records schedule for business communications, providing retention and disposition guidance applying across all University of Wisconsin campuses. The schedule covers all forms of communications, including voicemail, text messages, instant message logs, and email. If a form of communication is already part of a scheduled record series, it derives its retention period from that schedule. Following is a summary of the two categories covered by the general record schedule, with retention periods.

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Communications are messages with no business value after the information contained in the message has been conveyed or superseded, or the event to which the message is related has occurred. Examples include scheduling emails, courtesy copies, superseded drafts of a project, and routine information requests (e.g. "What hours are you open?").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

Email Management and Filing

As with other electronic records, you should pick a file structure that suits the needs of your office and consistently use that structure. There are, however, some considerations that may help you with managing your emails as records.

  • Use information-rich subjects. Using detailed subjects helps with both searching and visible identification of relevant emails.
    • Bad Example: "Minutes"
    • Better Example: "Executive Committee Minutes for 11/6/08"
  • 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. An example of such a component might look like the following:
    • Graduate Research Initiative
      • Committee Minutes
        • FY 2008
          • January
          • February
          • March
  • Consider filing by retention schedule, particularly in conjunction with date folders. This level of filing will further simplify your retention decision by giving you a visual reminder of when you should be destroying or transferring a particular kind of record. 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.
  • 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.