Managing Electronic Records and Email

This guidance is designed to help users manage electronic records and to provide guidance for implementing records rules. The most important thing to remember about managing electronic records is that the rules applying to electronic information are the same as those applying to paper.

Naming Conventions

The benefits of naming conventions include

  • Finding files more easily
  • Creating uniformity in shared drives
  • Making sorting more predictable
  • Giving clues to the contents of files and folders without a close examination
  • Controlling versions

When creating naming conventions, there are several rules of thumb to consider

  • Create names that will allow useful sorting
  • Avoid spaces, abbreviations, and most symbols
  • Format dates to enhance sorting
  • Keep names as short as possible and make them easy to read
  • Use the filename for things such as authorship and version control

More detailed information on filenames, including a sample document set of rules, can be found here.


Scanning, or digital imaging, is an increasingly popular strategy for managing records and enhancing workflow. Anyone considering scanning their records needs to keep a number of issues in mind.

  • The key distinction to make when considering scanning is between access and preservation
  • Scanning is not inexpensive and  not a good strategy for long-term preservation of records
  • Scanning  is almost never a good idea unless it is used to create better access to  records

Review our scanning guidelines for a more thorough discussion of the topic.


The volume of e-mail makes it more difficult to manage than virtually any other kind of record.  A few important things to remember are

  • Organizing mail into folders can help you find it as well as make it easier to decide when you can get rid of messages
  • Keep up with management  or the volume will overwhelm you
  • Outgoing messages are just as, or more, important than incoming messages as a record of your own work
  • Use rules to organize as much as possible; make the machine do the tedious work
  • Attachments should be considered when making management decisions
  • When an employee leaves, his/her e-mail should not be deleted immediately, but should be kept according to relevant records schedules
  • E-mail is not a secure transfer method, so do not send confidential information via e-mail
  • Most e-mail does not have to be kept very long

Review our e-mail guidelines for a more thorough discussion of the topic.

Employee Separation

The records employees create while working at Harvard belong to the University and have value to the University.  Consequently, when an employee leaves Harvard or a particular Harvard office, his/her records must continue to be managed appropriately.  Specifically, any appropriate retention schedule requirements must be met.  Basically, there are three groups of records to consider when someone leaves:

  • Records that have  been kept by the office long enough and can be destroyed or transferred to the Archives
  • Records that must be kept longer to meet policy or legal requirements but are no longer active
  • Active records

For records that fall into the last two categories, the records should be transferred into the custody of someone else in the office.  Note that this applies to all records, including e-mail.  IT assistance may be required to move electronic records but this type of assistance is the limit of IT responsibility.  Since IT is not in a position to know the content of the records or to make judgments based on content, they cannot decide what should be kept and where it should be maintained.  For more information and tips, see our guidance on managing the records of departing employees.

Transferring to the Archives

For records required to be transferred to the University Archives, electronic transfer is an option.  Holding electronic copies of records is preferable to paper for all the reasons we create and store records on our computers.  The transfer itself is a complicated process so the Archives is currently developing systems that will enable easy transfer of records into its collection.  In the meantime, Archives staff will work with you to find the most efficient way, consistent with Harvard security rules, to move or store records.