E-mail: What to Keep

E-mail messages, sent and received, are evidence of the University’s decisions, business transactions, and activities. As such, they are official records. For e-mail sent by University employees, the official copy is the creator’s original message. For e-mail received by an University employee, the official copy is the one received by the primary addressee. In cases when e-mail has been replied to multiple times, the official copy is usually the last one if all the previous messages are included.

The content of an electronic communication determines its status, just as it does when the communication is transmitted on paper. A complete copy of names and e-mail addresses for group distribution lists should be retained for legal and historical purposes. The header, including subject, date created, sender, and recipients, is considered part of the record.

Affirmative answers to the following tests indicate that an e-mail is a record:

  • Proves a business-related event or activity did or did not occur
  • Demonstrates a transaction
  • Identifies who participated in a business activity or had knowledge of an event
  • Has legal or compliance value
  • Supports facts you claim to be true, since the person with direct knowledge of the facts is not able to testify
  • Addresses a topic specifically covered by law or regulation

Examples of e-mail that are records include:

  • Agendas and meeting minutes of management teams, committees, and governing bodies
  • Correspondence related to official business communications at the executive level to and from others inside and outside the organization
  • Documentation of departmental and organizational decisions and operations
  • Final reports or recommendations
  • Grant proposals, approvals, reports
  • Legal and financial records
  • Organizational charts
  • Policy, program, and procedure directives, such as manuals, bulletins, orders, rules, directives, or policy statements, issued by the university’s executive-level staff addressing organizational operations, key functions, mission goals, or issues of public interest
  • Press releases
  • Transmittal e-mails that contain no substantive information but are sent to provide attachments (because they supply information found in the header)

E-mails generally not considered records include:

  • Announcements of social events, e.g. retirement parties
  • Drafts of documents
  • Duplicate copies of messages
  • Personal messages not related to conduct of business
  • Portions of documents sent as reference or information-only copies
  • Published reference materials
  • Requests for information