Email Management, Retention, and Disposition

Electronic Messages are not meant to live in the inbox.

Originally, the inbox was meant to mimic its’ physical counterpart: a location to receive new messages before they are read and filed in a long-term location.

Generally, as soon as you receive a message, you should:

  • Determine whether or not you are responsible for retaining it, AND
  • Move it to an appropriately named label (folder) in Gmail, OR delete it
  • Organize labels for future archiving. Examples: “archives” or titles based on topic
  • Determine whether or not you need to mark it for follow-up or create a reminder
  • Email is an electronic form of correspondence. As such, it is subject to the retention guidelines developed by your office in cooperation with the Records Management Program. If your office has yet to meet with the Records Manager, a good rule of thumb follows:

    • Routine correspondence dealing with general administrative matters should be retained three years and then deleted.
    • Correspondence recording significant transactions, projects, events, and operations should be transferred, in accordance to your retention schedule, to the Records Manager for permanent retention. This transfer may happen annually or at separation from the college.
  • Do you need it?

    Before creating an email message, consider whether it needs to be created:

    • Can other modes of communication be used more efficiently or effectively?
    • Is it necessary to create and send “information only” emails?
    • Could this information be shared on a collaborative workspace such as Slack?
    • Is it necessary to CC all of the listed recipients?
    • Do you need to reply? Avoid replying to messages you receive unless a reply is actually required.

    Be objective

    If you are in a position at the College that by virtue of your work is responsible for policy and mission related actions, be objective in the content of your email. Remember that email may be accessed during litigation or audits. Create each email as if it were being published on the front page of the New York Times.

  • Some types of messages fall outside the scope of a general records retention schedule and may be deleted immediately:

      • General bulletins and announcements
      • Duplicate copies of messages
      • Drafts
      • Meeting notices
      • Messages from mailing lists
      • Junk mail and spam
      • Personal emails
      • Human Resources timesheet notices
      • All faculty, student, staff emails (archived elsewhere)
      • Daily messages (archived elsewhere)
  • In order to determine whether your correspondence is significant ask if the email meets any of the following criteria:

    • The email establishes policy and procedure.
    • The email provides recommendation/s.
    • The email describe administrative actions taken or planned.
    • The email has administrative, operational, fiscal, regulatory, legal or evidential value.
    • The email has historical, research, or information value.
    • It records an official decision.
    • It proves a Williams-related event or activity did or did not occur.
    • The email demonstrates a transaction.
    • You need the email to identify who participated in a business activity or had knowledge of an event.
    • When it has legal or compliance value.
    • When it could help answer a question in the future.

    If you answer yes to one or more, the correspondence should be retained permanently.

  • For email correspondence, you are only responsible for saving the final message of a thread as long as the full text of the interaction remains intact.

    • Retain the copy of the original email and attachment within the context of your email software on the email server.
    • Download significant attachments to a shared network folder.
    • In most cases where the attachment has ongoing value, the email should also be retained as it supplies the date, sender, and recipients as well as a cover message. Maintaining a connection between the original email and its attachments helps ensure the authenticity and integrity of the record.

Questions? Contact us.

Should It Stay or Should It Go? Best Practices for Email Management at Williams: Presentation by Records Manager, Jessika Drmacich, on email management and associated records practices

See also: