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Records management: E-mail as Official Record

Records management at UW-Parkside: What do I keep? What do I toss? What goes to the archives?

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Scroll Down for Powerpoint about Email as Record

Emails are indeed a public record—except for those that are a non-record (sorry for the syllogism…), such as those received as a mass-mailing, spam, communication of a completely personal nature, and similar material (see the Non-Records tab for more information).

  • Not all email has to be kept forever, even if it is a public record.
  • There are minimum legal retention periods, however, for public records in email.
  • YOU are responsible for the retention and destruction of your email records.

Emailed materials fall into four categories:

Often e-mail consists of:

1. Non-records: email received as a mass-mailing, spam, unsolicited product and service offers, communication of a completely personal nature, and similar material.

And material covered by the Business Communication General Records Schedule:

2. Routine Business Communication: Normal correspondence in which you engage to carry out your task. You must keep this in your email account for a minimum of six months.

3. Transitory Business Communication: Simple notification of meetings, draft minutes, courtesy copies, quick questions, invitations to lunch, reminders, etc. A rule of thumb is; if it could have been done in a quick phone call, it is transitory. You must keep this in your email account for a minimum of seven days.

Less frequently, email is a….

4. Permanent Public Record or a record with longer retention periods: Communication that would be permanent public record in any other form, such as the official correspondence of the Chancellor or any higher administrator. Department Chairs may author policy or help in developing it in such a way that this becomes permanent correspondence. Ask yourself: If it were paper, would I file it in my subject files? If yes, retain it in an email folder and the archives will ask for it at a future date.

ALSO: Some documents transmitted via email, especially attachments, are not simply email, but records that fall under other records management rubrics, like minutes, budget materials, invoices, etc. Specific Records schedules govern these (if they are the originals and not merely copies) and they will frequently need to be retained for several years or more. Save them on your computer or shared department drive.

Knowing what a specific email is in these terms is important, because it is beneficial to you and to the university to treat the email properly according to those categories.

When to Delete

If email has surpassed the minimum retention guideline and you no longer need to use it, delete it!

  • It saves expensive storage space.
  • It decreases our [read YOUR] liability if litigation arises. What is deleted according to schedule is legally deleted.

Also, delete the non-records or those with expired retention periods in your deleted mailbox frequently, at least weekly, to free up server space and get rid of old emails, If you do not do this, they legally (and actually) still exist.


  • Save routine emails in your inbox or in subject folders and monthly simply delete items over 6 months old.
  • Delete transitory emails and delete last week’s deleted emails weekly. [You have to delete items in your deleted folder, or the email still exists.]
  • Put historical emails or items you are still using in a separate folder and save them on a network drive (Here's how!) OR ask the archivist to visit you and do it.
  • Chancellor-level to Dean-level Administrators: Say yes to autoarchiving your emails when Outlook asks you, delete emails of a purely personal nature or transitory emails as defined above AND at the time of retirement or separation, call the archives to save your emails according to the Administrative Records GRS.

Watch the Powerpoint presentation below for more information

Please contact me with any questions regarding e-mail. (See left for contact.)

Subject Guide

Rebecca Robbennolt's picture
Rebecca Robbennolt
(262) 595-2411

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