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Email and Electronic Records

Yes. Like any other kind of record, retention periods do have to be applied to emails. The retention is based on the content of each individual email since email itself is not a record; it is a way of transmitting information. Most emails have a very transitory value and therefore can be deleted as soon as they have fulfilled their reference purpose. These emails include preliminary drafts, general announcements, and routine requests for information.

For a full list of content that does not have to be retained see: Materials That May Be Disposed of Without a Specific Retention Period.

However, all other email must be retained for some period of time. The following are examples of categories of email which have specific retention periods:

  • Policy and Procedure Directives
  • Agendas and minutes of meetings
  • Messages related to legal or audit issues
  • Messages that document departmental/office actions, decisions, operations and responsibilities
  • Final reports or recommendations
  • Approvals for purchasing or hiring new employees

To determine the retention periods of these records, please refer to the UW General Records Retention Schedules and your Departmental Retention Schedule.

For more information, please see our resource on Email Management.

The following is a list of situations where it makes sense to move emails to a more enduring, shared location:

  • Important attachments (Save the attachment and delete the email)
  • When you want to keep all records on a particular person/project together in one place
  • Records that colleagues will benefit from having access to
  • Records with retention periods of 10+ years
  • When you are leaving your position, any records that have continuing retention or value to the office

Remember, you can use shared folders or a departmental email account to provide shared access to email records as well.

When you drag-and-drop an email from Microsoft Outlook it saves the email and any attachments as a .msg file. This file format is acceptable in most cases, but for records with retention periods of 10+ years, or if you have people in your office who do not use Outlook for email, converting emails to PDF is the preferred solution.

If you're looking to transfer emails to another person or office, speak with them first about what method and format (e.g., snapshot, shared folders, forwarding, PST, MSGs, PDFs, etc.) will work best. Please note: preserving metadata is often paramount in legal matters. In these cases, forwarding or converting emails may not be the best approach as the process can potentially modify or destroy part of an email's metadata.

Yes. Records retention schedules cover all records created or received by University employees, whether in paper or electronic format. Both the state and the federal government define a record as information “regardless of physical form or characteristics”, so by definition, an email, database, or word document is also a record. And since every record has a specific amount of time it must be retained before it can be destroyed, this retention requirement applies to electronic records as well. At the end of the retention period, electronic records should be deleted or transferred to the University Archives (if listed as “Archival” or “Potentially Archival” on a UW Records Retention Schedule).

Yes, it's fine to move from paper to electronic records. However, be aware that electronic records are governed by the same accessibility and retention requirements as paper records. When moving to electronic forms or designing a database you need to consider the retention period of the record and ensure it is accessible and readable for the full retention period. You must also ensure that it can be deleted or wiped at the end of the retention period. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at urc@uw.edu or 543-0573 to discuss this further.

Backups are considered to be duplicates. Duplicates can be destroyed once they have served their reference purpose. We highly recommend using backups only to restore data in cases of a disk failure, accidental deletion, or for disaster recovery purposes. We recommend that full backups should not be kept for more than 6 months and that partial backups not be kept for more than 3 months.

It depends upon the type of changes that are being made to the web page.

If you are only modifying the layout or display, or making other revisions that don't substantially change the content, then you do not have to keep a copy of old web pages.

If the changes to the web page include revising, adding or removing substantive information like policies or procedures, requirements, deadlines, program or course descriptions, then the site must be retained permanently as a historical or “Archival” record. Other sites that contain research data should be kept for 6 years after the end of the research study under which the data was created.

There are two simple ways to retain an old web page/site:

  1. Before making the changes, download a copy of the page/site and file it chronologically with any previous changes/updates.
  2. If your website is capable of it, enable version control. This will track the different revisions as you update content and enables you to pull up previous versions when needed.

Note: Be sure to also capture any important embedded content or downloadable files that are part of the page.

Please see our resource on Saving Webpages for Retention and Holds for more detail.

If your page is the official location of policy, procedure, or program descriptions you can contact John Bolcer, University Archivist for information on how to transfer these web sites to the University Archives for permanent preservation.

Since the state defines a record as information regardless of physical form or characteristics, IM, tweets, texts and any other forms of written communication fall under retention requirements and are subject to public records requests. Because it is so difficult to capture these communications we strongly advise not using them for approvals or to provide customized or unique advice to a student or employee. Those messages are best relayed through email.

Like email, the content of the message determines the retention. Generally, most if not all of these messages can be considered transitory and will fall under the listing for email you can delete in the UW Email Best Practices.

If approvals or unique advice is communicated to a student or employee via IM, text, or a tweet, we advise that the message be forwarded to an official UW email account and retained based on its retention on a UW Records Retention Schedule. (6 years after graduation or last contact for messages regarding a student; 3 years after termination of employment for messages regarding an employee).

Like all other electronic records, the retention for Facebook and all other social media is determined by the content of the post. If social media is used as a marketing tool and any information posted can be found on an official web site or imbedded in written policy and procedure, then the content of the social media site can be considered a duplicate record. Duplicates can be destroyed as soon as they have served their reference purpose. In addition, we suggest taking down content that is not up-to-date.

If your Facebook account or other social media sites are the official location of policy, procedure, or program descriptions that are not posted in another location, you can contact John Bolcer, University Archivist for information on how to transfer these sites to the University Archives for permanent preservation.

If the messages are sent, received and archived in connection with the transaction of University business they are considered a public record; therefore, they should be retained using an approved UW Records Retention Schedule.

Retention is based on the purpose of the listserv and the content of the emails. Most listserv messages are transitory and can be deleted once their reference purpose is served. Messages like those containing final recommendations or approvals for actions taken, on the other hand, must be retained for 6 years.

Because UW-IT deletes archived messages from Mailman after only 1 year, those messages which have continuing retention requirements should be transferred to a local storage location such as a network drive, SharePoint site or Google Team Drive. This is also true for any messages which may be needed for an audit, litigation, or public records request as they must be retained until the action has been resolved. Once there is no longer a legal, fiscal, or administrative need to retain these saved messages, they should be deleted from their storage location.