Managing emails as Records

Email has become an important business tool in the United Nations and many of the email messages that you create and receive constitute records because they provide evidence of and information about the business transactions of the UN. So, along with other types of information, you must manage email messages, which fall under the definition of records, with consideration for the Organisation's business and accountability recordkeeping requirements.


Email records can be classified as follows:

• Business records

• Personal records

Business records can be further subdivided into:

• temporary/transitory records

• records to be retained as evidence of business transactions.

In addition to the categorization above, business records in the form of email may have a security classification (as identified in ST/SGB/2007/6 Information Sensitivity, Classification and Handling) whose purpose is to determine levels of access during the lifecycle of the records.

You need to retain, organise and manage email messages, which constitute records, so that you can easily access, retrieve and keep them for as long as they are needed. This includes retaining, organizing and managing email records of staff members who have left the Organisation.

Personal and temporary/transitory records in the form of email may have a short lifecycle which can be fixed (currently three years) and at the end of which they can be destroyed. Business records in the form of emails need to be retained as evidence of the business transactions to which they relate.



Identification of email records


Email records are any messages created, sent or received within an email system that are required by the Organization to control, support, or document the delivery of programs, to carry out operations, to make decisions, or to account for activities.

Examples of email records:

  • messages that reflect the position or business of the Organisation
  • messages that initiate, authorize or complete a business transaction
  • messages received from external sources that form part of an official record
  • copies containing more or less information than the original record
  • original messages of policies or directives and, where the information does not exist in another form:
  • messages related to work schedules and assignments
  • agenda and minutes of meetings
  • briefing notes, final reports and recommendations

Transitory email records

Transitory email records are records required only for a limited time to ensure the completion of a routine action or the preparation of a subsequent record. Email transitory records are not required to control, support or document the delivery of programs, to carry out operations, to make decisions or to account for activities of the organisation and may include:

  • messages that are duplicate copies of information used only for convenience of reference and not as the official record
  • informal messages or rough drafts not required as evidence in the development of a document
  • miscellaneous notices of employee meetings, holidays, etc.
  • messages received as part of a distribution list or received from listservs and other Internet sources, solely for convenience of reference
  • emails that result from personal use of the official electronic messaging system or messages in a form used for casual communication.



Drafts created in an email system that are evidence of the evolution of a document as it goes through the approval processes, are considered official records, therefore, they must be retained and filed. The onus is on the originator of the drafts to retain these email records, along with any other records pertinent to the process. Some drafts are not records. See Emails which are not records.

Creating and addressing emails   

Examples of email prefixes:
  • SOCIAL: evening out next Wednesday
  • FOR INFO: rail strike latest news
  • FOR ALL MANAGERS: new appraiser course
  • URGENT!: Fire drill at 12.00

Good practice in managing emails begins with their creation and addressing. The recommended guidelines are as follows:

  • Only identify as main recipients those who need to act or take decisions on message content.
  • Use "Reply to All" sparingly.
  • Use cc for information only.
  • Cover one topic only per email.
  • Include the message of the email in the text rather than as an attachment.
  • Use clear and explicit subject lines.
  • Categorise emails with prefixes in the "Subject lines" line to help users to decide whether to delete the email, open immediately or file it and open later.


Responsibility for keeping email records  

The originator is responsible for retaining and filing the email :

  • When the email is created internally

The recipient is responsible for retaining and filing the email :

  • where the email is received from an external source and where that information does not exist elsewhere in the Organisation and forms part of the official business record

Three important rules to remember when your are the originator of an email message:

  1. If you have created an email message for response from one or several recipients, you must ensure that the original text and all responses that form the complete email record are retained.
  2. If there is an ongoing email exchange you should use your own judgement to determine at what stages in the discussion a copy of the email should be captured as an official record. This judgement needs to be based on the significance of new information in an email response to a previous message.
  3. If you add information to an email record you receive, it is considered as a new original and you must keep and manage it.

Capturing and maintaining emails in a recordkeeping system    

A recordkeeping system for your email records needs to be able to identify, retrieve, share, and retain the records for as long as they are needed. Identification means linking the record to the business activity from which it results and to related records.

An electronic records management system [ERMS] provides the required functionality. An electronic document management system [EDMS] does NOT unless the email records are linked to a file classification system.

Principles to follow if you retain your email records in electronic format:

  1. You must be able to reproduce and view them in their original electronic format, whether this be your email system (the actual Lotus Notes) message along with its transmission and receipt data, or an attachment such as a Word or Excel document.
  2. You must file and store them based on your file classification structure in order to maintain a link between messages and attachments, and any other related records. The preferred method for doing this is by using an electronic records management system.
  3. You do not need to keep more than one format of your email record. If you have filed your email record in an electronic records management system, you can delete the copy in Lotus Notes. If you have printed and filed your email record in hard copy you can delete the copy in your email system (i.e. Lotus Notes).
  4. You are advised NOT to file and store email messages in your personal computer and directory work spaces. Doing so limits accessibility to the records and creates a major problem when a staff member leaves the organization, or when an office or mission closes and staff move on.
  5. If no option is available to retain and file email records in electronic formats in an appropriate electronic records management system, you may print email records for filing within the applicable records office or in any other applicable filing area for your hard copy records.
  6. The loss of transmission and receipt data (metadata) is a concern for the evidential value of printed copies of email messages. If not sure, you should consult your information technology personnel to assure that all metadata are printed with the messages.


Email records of departing staff members    

Prior to leaving the Department or transferring to another organizational area within the Department, you should perform a clean-up of all your email messages in the email system.


You must retain and file within the pertinent operational area all those messages you determine to be departmental records.

You can accomplish this by using one or more of the following options:

  • filing them in an ERMS;
  • assigning responsibility for your email account to another responsible person (in situations of a temporary departure such as maternity leave, secondment, etc. and given the understanding that this person will not delete your email records); or
  • printing and filing your email records in the applicable records office or in any other applicable filing area for your hard copy records.


You may delete all those messages you determine to be transitory records and other types of information not related to the Organization's business. If you are transferring within the Organisation or departing for a temporary period of time and retaining your current United Nations email account, you may wish to keep some of these electronic messages.

Before conducting the clean-up of your email messages, you must consult the Archives and Records Management Section (ARMS) to determine and agree upon the filing method for your email records. Your office or work unit is responsible for ensuring that your email records remain within the relevant organisational area. You are responsible for ensuring that these email records are identified and filed so that they can be researched, retrieved and retained for as long as needed.


Emails which are NOT records    


Drafts you create, send or receive in an email system constitute transitory records and need not be retained:

  • Where they are copies used for information or reference purposes only
  • Where any additional information has been incorporated into subsequent versions
  • where they are rough or working drafts that are not required to document the steps in the evolution of a document

Other non-record emails

  • Email messages sent internally through the Broadcast or other organisational distribution lists, for administrative or organizational requirements.
  • Email messages that contain information from sources external to the Organisation, distributed solely for information or reference purposes, and are not required as official business records.

While the Secretariat email system does not currently provide the ability to encrypt email messages, some areas may have add-on packages that provide this functionality. If you are using encryption, you are responsible to ensure that decryption keys are available to those who will need to access to your email records. It is recommended that you file and store these records in a decrypted format.