How Long Do I Need to Keep E-mail?

Need Help with What E-mail Messages to Keep and What You May Delete?

The UW System has a General Records Schedule (GRS) for "Business Communications," which includes e-mail messages. The schedule can be found on the UW System General Counsel's website for General Schedules and Records Management Services - the second item under General Schedules for the University of Wisconsin Systemlink.

In a nutshell, there are two types of business communications that you may delete once they have met their retention period: "routine" and "transitory." Anything that does not fit into one of these two definitions should be retained. 

Routine Communications

Routine communications, including e-mail messages, only need to be kept for 6 months after the business activity or project they refer to is completed.

What constitutes routine communications? Routine communication comprises the normal communication that occurs when university employees, and sometimes their colleagues who are not university employees, work together to transact public business on behalf of the university.  Routine communication has continuing value as a public record because it is directly connected to the transaction of public business that is conducted by university employees. 

Routine communication has no historical value; never includes records that set forth university policies, guidelines, procedures, or directives; and does not formalize the business processes of the university.

The Business Communications GRS has more details on routine communications if you need more.

Transitory Communications

Transitory communications, including e-mail messages, are directly connected to the transaction of public business that is conducted by university employees, but has a short-term business value. E-mail messages in this category may be deleted after 7 days, or when the communication has been superseded or the event has transpired.

Transitory communication has no business value after the information contained in the message has been conveyed or superseded, or the event to which the message is related has occurred. Transitory communication does not establish policies, guidelines, or procedures; does not certify a transaction; does not become a receipt; and does not perpetuate or formalize business activities of the university. Transitory communication is not necessary for statutory, legal, or fiscal purposes; has no historical value; and would not be filed in a records management system.

Some examples include, but are not limited to:

  1. Messages that communicate information that is not the basis for official action, such as news bulletins, holiday notices, charity and welfare appeals, or information about workplace events.
  2. Scheduling information pertaining to an event that has already occurred.
  3. Courtesy copies of communications that convey information but do not require responsive action by the university employee who is the recipient, but not the creator, of the communication.
  4. Communication that is created by, or received from, a distribution list, listserv, or other resource provider for reference purposes.
  5. A preliminary version of a document that has been shared for review and comment among colleagues after it has been superseded by a successive version of the document. Preliminary versions of a record may be classified as transitory only by the recipient, but not the creator, of the communication.
  6. Transitory requests for information or materials to which a university employee can easily reply, and in response to which a university employee would not have to perform special research, engage administrative processes, or seek supervisory review.

It is okay to keep a few e-mail messages longer than these retention periods state if you have a good reason to, but you can't delete them sooner.

If you have a paper-based filing system for the majority of your correspondence/business communication, these retention periods apply to those copies as well. Any business communications that are not "routine" or "transitory" should be kept, and may be printed out and filed in your paper-based correspondence files. The e-mail messages then become duplicate copies and may be deleted.

Still Not Sure?

UW-Madison has more information:

Still have questions? Want to transfer some of those correspondence files to the university's archives? Contact the University Archives at 715-425-3567 or e-mail us!

University of Wisconsin-River Falls
410 S. 3rd Street, River Falls WI 54022 USA
Campus Information 715-425-3911