Email FAQs: Keeping and Deleting

Who is responsible for managing email messages?

Organizing and managing email is the responsibility of the individual university employee and can be quite a challenge considering the volume of email sent and received on the campus every day. Email systems administrators are responsible for system security and performance but cannot advise users about which messages to keep and which to purge.

Why do I need to keep certain emails?

Because certain emails document the day-to-day activities of an office, decisions that are made and communicated to others or precedents that are set to address specific situations. In this way, email is essential to workflow and to meeting educational, administrative, business and legal obligations.

Many campus units utilize email to transmit reports, meeting minutes, drafts of policies, official memoranda and other information without realizing that their email correspondence is a record. The arbitrary destruction of records can increase risk for the university if records cannot be accessed during official actions.

What email should I keep?

  • Does the email message or attachment have permanent or continuing value, (such as those messages that document administrative decision-making, committee faculty, and campus activities)? If you answer "no," delete and purge once the email's value or purpose ends.
  • Who else received this message? Are you the primary keeper of this document? Example: You are the chair of a committee and receive meeting minutes from a committee member. As chair, retaining the email is your responsibility until it is transferred to the University Archives or into an electronic records keeping system.
  • Is the email or attachment a work in progress (such as a draft)? Do you need all versions? Retaining drafts depends on whether you are the creator or recipient and on the type of document. As a general rule, keep drafts if they are needed to document the process, such as when negotiating an agreement. In most cases, the final version is sufficient for long-term retention.

Messages with continuing value — such as those that document administrative decision-making, committee, faculty and campus activities — should be retained in paper or electronic copy until no longer administratively useful. Then, they should be transferred to the University Archives. Electronic copies can be deleted if paper copies are maintained. Examples of message content that may have continuing value:

  • approving or authorizing actions or expenditures
  • formal communications between staff, such as correspondence or memoranda relating to official business
  • signifying a policy change or development
  • creating a precedent, such as messages issuing instructions or advice
  • relating to the substantive business of the work unit or university
  • involving negotiations on behalf of the university
  • having value for other people or the work unit as a whole

In addition, faculty correspondence, research data and external scholarly communications that are not of an administrative nature may still have significant archival value. Electronic copies may be deleted if paper copies are maintained

Messages whose loss would pose a significant fiscal, legal or administrative risk to the university if they could not be accessed or read should not be deleted unless retained in an acceptable paper format.

What email should I delete?

Delete personal messages. These should be minimal and retained only as long as necessary. Messages needed for a limited time or purpose should be deleted and purged once their purpose has concluded. Such messages include:

  • drafts
  • junk mail
  • those distributed to a number of staff for information only (such as general announcements, circulars, meeting notices copies of document extracts)
  • those created solely as part of preparation for other records
  • personal messages and announcements not work related

If you manage your routine email correspondence and inter-office memoranda by printing and filing it, you can purge and delete electronic copies.

Should I keep attachments to email? If so, how?

Remember to file any existing attachments with the email, unless you have already saved them to a different location. If the email message provides context for the attachment, the answer is "yes." In most cases where the attachment has continuing value, the email should be kept as it supplies the date, sender and recipients, as well as any cover message.

Can I save the email and attachment as paper only?

Yes, if transmission data is retained on the printout (date, sender, recipients, subject and message body). If the email and attachment have legal or evidential value, storing them together — either as part of your email environment or in an electronic records keeping system that retains email header (transmission) data — is the best method for ensuring authenticity.

If your office frequently transmits attachments via email, consider placing the documents on a shared drive or making them available across a network. This will ease pressure on the users who must manage the attachments and on the email system's storage capacity.

How long should I keep email?

It depends. Email messages have different values, based on the content of the message, just like other types of records. With the popularity of high-capacity storage systems, users may feel inclined to store all their email indefinitely. While no one can create the additional time required to manage email, it is incumbent on university employees to appraise the value of electronic messages and retain messages with ongoing value throughout their established retention period.

In what format should I keep email?

Many email users retain sent and received messages with value by printing them and filing them with other related paper documents. This is an acceptable method for retaining the message, if there exists no digital solution (such as a method for retaining the messages electronically over time).

If you save messages in their native file formats, they should be accessible as long as the email application is supported. If you save messages in an open format, such as ASCII text, you increase your chances of accessing the messages into the future, but you lose formatting that exists in the original version.

If I print an email, can I then delete it?

If you choose this management technique for maintaining physical and intellectual control over your email, it is not necessary to retain the original electronic mail message. If you manage your routine email correspondence and inter-office memoranda by printing and filing it, you can purge and delete electronic copies.

Why do I need to include metadata in printouts of email?

Email messages that are printed should include certain components (metadata) of the original electronic version. Metadata adds to the authenticity of the message. Those components include:

  • addresses — not names of distribution lists — of specific recipients (the "To:"), including addresses in “cc:” and "bcc:" fields
  • addresses of the sender (the "From")
  • subject line
  • body of the email message
  • all attachments
  • date and time the message was sent and/or received

In addition, some organizations may require the sender to include a signature block or a disclaimer on each sent message. Those components also should be included on printed messages. Similarly, a vCard file that a sender attaches to the message in lieu of a signature block should be printed. 

When should I print an email?

Many email users retain sent and received messages with value by printing them and filing them with other related paper documents. This is an acceptable method for retaining the message, if there exists no digital solution, i.e. a method for retaining the messages electronically over time.

If you choose this management technique for maintaining physical and intellectual control over your email, it is not necessary to retain the original electronic mail message. If you manage your routine email correspondence and inter-office memoranda by printing and filing it, you can purge and delete electronic copies.