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Getting in Control of your Email

This tutorial covers:

·         Attitudes towards email

·         Sending fewer and better emails

·         Managing your inbox

·         Emails as records

·         Some handy hints

·         Dealing with the backlog: a way forward


1          Introduction

2          Considerations before you write your email

3          Tips when writing your email

4          Managing your Email

5          How long to retain email

6          Why is email file store limited?

7          Help, I’ve got Too Much Information!


1          Introduction

Email management is ‘the same but different’ to managing other types of documents. What does this mean?

The Same

·         Emails have the same weight of evidence as other types of written communication.

·         Where email contains a record of an action being taken, or a transaction of any type, they need to be retained as per the relevant retention schedule, just like any other record type.

But Different

·         The difference is mainly one of perception. Email ‘feels’ less formal or official than a letter. However, see point 1 above.

With this in mind, whenever communicating by University email, remember not to type anything which you would not be comfortable printing onto University letterhead as in the eyes of the law there is no difference. This is of course especially important when emailing students or any external entity or organisation, but remember that even internal email communications are covered by the Freedom of Information Act and are usually retrievable on request.

·         Emails are unique among unstructured records in that they are not by default stored in electronic filestore with other record types, but in their own unique system, usually Microsoft Outlook. But this doesn’t have to be the case.


2          Considerations before you write your email


     i.        Firstly, some email facts to bear in mind…

·         Emails sent using University systems belong to the University and not to you as an individual

·         Emails are legally enforceable

o    If you ‘informally’ agree to do something by email or use email to request goods or services, the email constitutes a contract

·         Emails are legally discloseable

o    In response to requests under the Freedom of Information and Data Protection acts, and following court orders, most information contained in email is discloseable

·         Email is insecure and easily intercepted

·         The person you are emailing likely receives many emails

·         Email is a disruptive technology

o    It interrupts you and others from work


    ii.        Is an Email appropriate?

Before you begin to write a message, consider whether email really is the best medium…

How many emails do you send and receive per day? In the times before email, how many memos did you send or receive daily? If you’re like most people, you probably sent and received memos a lot less than you do with email. It’s worth thinking for a moment why this is the case.

Although email is undeniably a flexible and responsive technology, it is not always appropriate. Often a face to face discussion (perhaps with a colleague who is based just down the corridor), a telephone call or meeting, or a formal letter, are more appropriate.

Before you send an email, think of the purpose of your communication. Is email actually preferable? A few examples are considered below.

a.    Arranging a meeting
This is generally a suitable use of email. You may want to use the Calendar function in Outlook so that the recipient(s) can accept or reject the invitation with the minimum of fuss.

b.    Transferring documents
Particularly where you wish to make documents available to multiple recipients, email is not a suitable means of distribution. For each person the email is being distributed to, a copy is stored in each of their email accounts, as well as your own sent items. This is very inefficient use of limited mailbox filestore.

In situations where you need to transfer documents to others, the best practise is to place the documents in a location accessible to all of your recipients, whether this is an intranet or internet site, or your departmental networked file store, then email recipients. You can then email your recipients with details of the location.

c.     Agreeing details of a contract
Because email has the same legal status as a signed document on University letterhead, email exchanges for contractual discussions must be managed carefully, to ensure that there is a clear distinction between negotiating the terms and conditions of the contract  and agreeing them (and so entering into a contract).

d.    Discussing the performance of a member of staff with Human Resources
Under the Data Protection Act, members of staff (and students, and any other living individuals) have a series of rights.
This includes the right to access almost any information held about them by the University, including emails in which they are identified. This is a right which is increasingly being used in grievance/complaints situations. If you need to communicate potentially sensitive information (including communicating with HR), it is far more appropriate to undertake this in person & (if need be) commit summary meeting notes in your own non-work related private diary/notebook.


Email is a very useful too, but remember…

·         It is not the only tool we have

·         It is not always the best tool


   iii.        The benefits of reducing the number of emails you send

·         Easier for both you and your colleagues to manage

·         Less chance of mistakes being made

·         Gets the best out of email and other communication techniques

·         Reduces difficulty in complying with information legislation


3          Tips when writing your email

i.             Stick to one subject per message

Avoid addressing more than one unrelated subject in an email as this:

·         Makes accurate titling impossible

·         Makes appropriate filing and management difficult

·         Makes it difficult to follow an audit trail

·         Increases the risk of inadvertent disclosure

o    If you forward the email to another party interested in one of the email topics, you will reveal details of the other topic


If you need to email the same person about two separate matters, send two separate emails.


ii.             Appropriate use of group messages ‘CC’ and ‘BCC’

·         Think carefully who really needs to see your message

·         Don’t send to all of your colleagues when it only applies to a few

·         Only ‘CC’ a user into a message when it is important that they are aware of what is being discussed, but without them needing to play an active role

·         Think carefully before using ‘BCC’ as it can be viewed as sneaky and underhand



4          Managing your Email

i.             Your email inbox: An In-tray, not a Filing Cabinet

Outlook is not intended as a system for storing your emails on a long-term basis. If you try to use it this way, you may surprised how quickly you run out of filestore and get the dreaded ‘Your mailbox is oversize’ notification.

It is recommended that any email, sent or received, which needs to be retained for a period of time longer than three months is moved to networked filestore. There are several advantages to this:

·         You can file your emails together with all related documentation and information relating to a particular topic, project or function, instead of the disjoined two-system approach of emails stored in Outlook and all of your other files elsewhere.

·         Your inbox is a silo that only you can see. Where required you can save your emails in departmental filestore where other staff have access as appropriate.

·         The process of moving emails to filestore is easy (explained below) and gives you an opportunity to review what you really need to save.

·         You won’t get any more ‘mailbox oversize’ notifications!


ii.        To save a single Outlook email in ‘ordinary’ filestore:

a.    Open the message in Outlook.

b.    Click on the ‘file’ drop-down menu.

c.     Click ‘Save As’, then navigate to the location in which you want to save the file.

d.    Type the file name (in line with the standard file naming format)

e.    From the ‘Save as type:’ drop-down box, select ‘Outlook Message Format (*.msg)’

f.     Press Save.

·         Also remember to delete the version of the email in your Outlook mailbox as soon as it ceases to be of operational use.


You may find that this process is rather longwinded if you wish to move a number of emails to 'ordinary' filestore. The 'drag and drop' method described below is more efficient for moving multiple emails. It will help if you have made use of Outlook to create sub-folders so that related emails are already filed together.


iii.  To save a number of Outlook emails in 'ordinary' filestore

a.    Open Outlook.

b.  Open Windows Explorer.

c.  Close any other programmes you have open.

d.  Right-click on a blank area of the Taskbar at the bottom of the desktop and select 'Tile Windows Horizontally'

e.  Holding either the shift key of the CTRL key (depending upon whether you want to copy all emails within the range or just select certain ones) select all of the emails you wish to copy and then simply drag them over to the relevant folder in Windows Explorer and release the mouse button.

f.  Done! All selected emails (including attachments) will be copied to the Windows folder as .msg files. To open these, simply double-click and you will see an Outlook view of the message, as usual.

·         Remember to delete the version of the email in your Outlook mailbox.


iii.        Why not just print a copy, use AutoArchive or Personal Folders?

It is important that emails are saved in this way rather than simply printing them and retaining a hard copy. The Outlook message format contains a level of evidence about the time the message was received/ sent, and the email address it was sent to which a printed copy does not have.

It is better practice to save emails which are records in standard filestore with other record types. This way, you can rename the file in line with Chapter 2 of the Records Management Handbook, register the record and thus ensure it is retained for the appropriate retention period.

Email saved in the Outlook message format can still be opened and read by double clicking on the message when using Windows Explorer or any other mechanism for browsing file store.

You should also avoid using the AutoArchive and Personal Folders functions at all costs. These methods save to your hard drive only. They are not backed up, and you could lose all of your emails if your hard drive fails!


iv.        Don’t forget your Sent Items

·         It’s easy to overlook your sent items but these are as important as your inbox

·         This folder will contain many of the emails you will want to save and constitutes a significant proportion of the total filestore used

·         Treat it in the same way as your inbox

a.    Move items to the relevant folder on networked filestore

b.    Delete items which you don’t need to retain


v.        Other things to consider

Handy Hints

Use Rules and Alerts to automate the management of your emails according to predefined rules:

·         Such as moving to specific folders based on sender, title, word or other characteristic

·         Go to the ‘Tools’ menu, then select ‘Rules and Alerts’

·         Remember: You will still need to remember to move items from your subfolders to network filestore at a later date

Use Colour to organise your inbox:

·         Ensure that messages from a certain person (such as your boss) stand out by receiving them in a different colour

·         Highlight the messages addressed only to you

·         Go to the ‘Tools’ menu, then select ‘Organize’ and click on the ‘Using colours’ option



5          How long to retain email

The length of time which you should retain an email for depends entirely on the content and purpose of the email.

The majority of emails received can be deleted immediately after reading or sending, or soon afterwards, though email records will need more careful management.


i.        What makes an ‘email record’?

·         Exactly the same properties as you would look for in other types of record

·         Emails that:

o    Are evidence of a transaction

o    Document what was done, by whom and when

o    Form part of the audit trail

o    Contain unique and valuable information

Retention applies to email in exactly the same way in which it applies to other record types, so for guidance on what needs to be retained and for how long, and what can be immediately discarded, please see Chapter 7 in the Records Management Handbook on Records Retention. If you are based within an academic departmental office, please refer to the retention schedule for departmental offices.

Within the context of the University, emails received from students and external entities, and emails you have sent, are among those which may be records. In order to avoid duplication, it is worth noting that the member of university staff who sent the email has the responsibility of retaining it, if it is indeed a record.


ii.        What is the record?

·         The email itself?

·         The attachment to the email?

·         Or both?

In cases where the email makes reference to something within the attachment it is necessary to retain both the email and the attachment.


iii.        Emails that can be routinely destroyed:

The following is taken from chapter 7 of the Records Management Handbook. It applies both to emails and information received in other formats

The following email usually has no significant ongoing operational, informational or evidential value. They can therefore be destroyed as soon as they have served their primary purpose:

1.            Newsletters and circulars (internal and external)

2.            Draft documents once a final version has been approved (unless required for audit)

3.            Emails which you have received via ‘CC’

4.            Announcements and notices of meetings and other events, and notifications of acceptance or apologies.

5.            Transmission e-mails which accompany attached documents but do not add any value to them

6.            Requests and confirmations relating to internal services

7.            Requests and confirmations relating to third parties (eg travel reservations) once invoices have been received

8.            Other emails with no significant ongoing operational, information or evidential value



6          Why is email file store limited?


Most of us, at one time or another, has been frustrated by a ‘Your mailbox is over its size limit’ message. If you’ve bought computer equipment lately, or are otherwise aware of costs for file store, you might wonder why the email system file store allocated by ISS gives such a limited allowance.


However, there are significant hidden additional costs to bear in mind in addition to the file store itself:

·         The cost of providing additional file store to back-up each email

·         The cost of appropriate servers to house the disks on which the email file store sits

·         The cost of staff to administer the file store and technicians to service the hardware

·         The cost (financial and environmental) of electricity both to power and cool the servers

·         The cost of the building space required to accommodate the servers


Remember, emails which you need to retain do not need to be stored within Outlook on a long term basis (see Section 4 on how to store email in your network filestore). So the file space allocated by ISS, along with sensible use of email and management of email records, should be sufficient.


7          Help, I’ve got Too Much Information!


That’s all very well but I’ve got 3000 messages in my inbox at the moment…

·         Start with this new approach for all new messages from tomorrow forwards

·         Tackle the backlog in a gradual, realistic way, for example:

o    Each week, set aside an hour to review, delete and file email, working backwards from most recent

o    At the beginning of each month, review the contents of that month’s emails for the previous year, then delete or file accordingly

o    Don’t forget your Sent items!


This tutorial was assembled with thanks to JISCinfoNet for permission to use material from their ‘Getting Your Email Under Control’ workshop.

This page was last edited on: 4/26/2010 4:39 PM