Managing email

What email should I save?

Email you create or receive as part of Australian Government business are Commonwealth records. You must manage email according to the Archives Act 1983. However, not all email contains business information and so does not need to be saved. Some business information has little value or is useful only for a very short time.

Ask yourself

  • Did I receive or send this email in the course of my work?
  • Does this relate to a project I am working on?
  • Does the email provide approval for an action?
  • Does the email provide advice, give a direction or record a decision?

If you answer 'yes' to any of these questions, you need to save the email into a system that can manage it properly.

Email that probably doesn’t need to be saved into another system includes:

  • messages received for information only
  • trivial information such as meeting reminders and room bookings
  • copies of information already in a records management system
  • copies of documents for reference purposes only
  • general notices to staff
  • personal and social messages.

What email can I delete?

You can routinely delete email that has little or no business value as long as it is allowed by your agency's 'normal administrative practice' or NAP policy. NAP is a provision of the Archives Act that allows low value information to be deleted regularly as part of normal business practice. Your agency should have a policy on how it implements NAP.

Email that can't be deleted under your agency's NAP policy should only be deleted by your agency's information and records managers or with their approval. Under the Archives Act, your agency needs permission from the National Archives to delete email that contains useful or valuable business information. The Archives gives permission through records authorities that set out how long different types of information and records need to be kept.

Where should I save email?

Under the Australian Government Digital Transition Policy, you should manage digital information, including email, in digital formats. This means that you should not print and store email on paper files.

You should store business email in a system that can manage it effectively for as long as it is needed. This could be an electronic document and records management system (EDRMS), a case management system or another suitable business system.

If your organisation doesn’t have a more suitable system, it's better to store your business email in a network or shared drive system than leave it in an email system. Your information will at least be available to other staff to use and it can be stored in context. However, information in shared drives can be altered or deleted without authorisation so this should only be a temporary solution.

Include email in your information and records management policies and procedures

Your organisation's information and records management policy should cover email systems and how to manage email.

It's important to have business rules and procedures to guide staff. Clear, easy-to-follow guidelines should include advice on:

  • what email needs to be saved into another system
  • who is responsible for saving email – the sender, the receiver or someone else
  • where email should be stored – into what system and where in the system
  • what email can be deleted and when
  • how email attachments should be managed – whether they’re saved as part of the email or as separate documents
  • what formats and processes should be used when saving email
  • how email should be titled when saving it into another system
  • who is responsible for shared mailboxes or public folders, and how they should be managed
  • how email threads or conversations should be managed, and when should they be saved into another system.

Tell your staff about policies and procedures

Once your organisation has decided on its email policies and procedures, you need to communicate them to all staff. You will need a continuing program of communication and training to remind people of their responsibilities and the right procedures – and to ensure that new staff know what they need to do. Spread the word through your induction program, staff newsletters and the intranet.

The disadvantages of email archiving solutions

Some ICT vendors promote email archiving solutions or storage systems to better manage email. Using these solutions, you transfer email from your primary email system to another storage server. They may offer advantages for information storage. However, they are not a substitute for an effective information and records management system because:

  • It's difficult to differentiate between valuable business information, duplicates and personal or unsolicited commercial email.
  • Information communicated via email is not linked to related records in other formats and systems.
  • Usually only the sender, recipient or an administrator can access the messages. If email is available more widely, there may be problems protecting private information.
  • It's difficult to change the titles of messages to better reflect the content, making it more difficult to find information.
  • It's difficult to separate information that needs to be kept for different amounts of time, which may result in most information being kept longer than necessary.

Video – Managing email

This short video will help you to:

  • understand the value of email to your agency's business
  • decide which email you need to keep
  • decide which email can be deleted
  • correctly save and title email
  • use email as reliable evidence of decisions and approvals.

Under the Archives Act 1983, email relating to your agency's business must be kept and managed according to its value and should not be deleted without following your agency's policy and procedures.

You can include our videos on your intranets using the YouTube embed method: <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/muf8sHDfrRc" frameborder="0"/>

Note: If your agency does not permit access to YouTube please contact agencytraining@naa.gov.au so we can make alternative access arrangements.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017