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Stanford University Archives: Managing Materials

The Stanford University Archives is the official repository for records of Stanford University and serves as its institutional memory.

Managing Materials

Materials created by Stanford affiliates represent some of the University's most valuable assets. These records may support administrative decision-making and operations, demonstrate compliance, and document Stanford's institutional history. Just like other University assets, these records need to be properly managed. These guidelines will help you:

  • Effectively organize and maintain your records
  • Improve efficiency and access to information
  • Comply with legal obligations
  • Ensure that historical records are captured and maintained in perpetuity

For help getting started, please contact us at

Naming files

It is useful to establish a best practice for file naming as part of managing both paper and electronic records. The benefits of naming conventions include finding files more easily, creating uniformity, making sorting more predictablem, giving clues to the contents of files and folders without a close examination, and controlling versions. Below are guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Create names that will allow useful sorting
  • Keep names as short as possible and make them easy to read (Windows, OS X, and Linux all limit names to 255 characters)
  • Include only alphanumeric characters
  • Use camel case to distinguish words (e.g. SenateVoteRound01.docx)
  • Avoid spaces, abbreviations, and most symbols except underscore “_” and hyphen “-“ (hyphens should only be used in the root filename, preferably for dates)
  • Format dates to enhance sorting; for proper sorting, date order should be YYYY-MM-DD (e.g. Minutes_2013-02-15.docx)
  • Use the filename for version control (e.g. CollectionPolicy_rev2013-02-20.docx, Minutes_draft_2015-08-22.pdf, Minutes_final_2016-05-20.pdf)
  • Consider putting the initials of the author in the filename (e.g. HowToFile2013-02-20_dh.docx)

Organizing files

The management and retrieval of files can be enhanced if you can handle them in large sets, rather than one by one. Therefore, it is important that you group your files in some logical manner. The categories chosen may reflect the way you work, your activities, procedures, thematic areas, or some sort of structural organization.

Separating your records from other materials is an important first step. The organization of your records may be based on the different types of records or the length of time for which certain kinds of records need to be kept. These groupings can be related to each other in a hierarchical or flat way, as best suits your needs. Generally, this structure should be consistent with the organization of any paper records you have (or records in other media), so that all records related to the same activity or subject, or of the same type, can be easily identified and retrieved as part of one conceptual grouping, as needed.

We recommend your organization scheme be recorded in a document that shows all the groupings of materials, describes them in a brief sentence, and indicates how they are related. In this document, which is called a classification scheme or filing plan, each grouping of records can be assigned a code or a name that should be linked to each record belonging in the same grouping no matter what the medium or location: thus, the records assigned to each grouping will share such code or name.

Identifying how long groupings of records need to be retained will facilitate their management while they are regularly needed and help ensure that records that need or merit long-term preservation are tagged early and given proper protection to ensure their survival. 

You will find it easier and more efficient to assign a retention period—the length of time you want or need to keep materials—to a grouping of materials, rather than to individual items. Trying to ensure that some things are kept as long as needed while weeding out things that are no longer needed is simply too cumbersome at the individual item level. While you may think that within a grouping some records should be kept longer than others, not only will you save time if you keep the whole grouping, but you will also have more complete information when you need to refer to the records. 

For help with setting up classification schemes and determining retention periods, please contact us at

Managing email

These guidelines set forth archivally acceptable methods of managing email, and may be adopted, in whole or in part, by offices and individuals. Before implementing these email guidelines, please review your record-keeping policies with the University Archives. While these guidelines are intended to apply to records retained for historical research purposes, offices and individuals should consider their applicability to other information retained for short or long-term reasons.

The basics
  • Establish department-wide subject heading and Inbox file folder naming standards to be sure that email can be accessed and retrieved in the future 
  • Email that is considered a record should be archived. Give employees adequate instructions and/or training to accomplish this. 
  • When employees retire, leave, or change work units, records stored in folders on their hard drives should be retained. 
  • Email back-ups are short-term storage for disaster recovery only. This function is not appropriate for long-term storage of information, nor is it compliant with accepted archival practice. 
  • Establish a “hold” policy for email that may be pertinent to a known or expected legal case or investigation 
What to keep

Email messages, sent and received, are evidence of an organization’s decisions, business transactions, and activities, and thus are official University records. For email sent by employees, the record copy of an email is usually the creator’s original message. When an email is received by an employee, the record copy is usually the one received by the primary addressee. In cases when email has been replied to multiple times, the record copy is usually the last one if all the previous messages are included. The content of an electronic message determines its status, just as it does when the communication is transmitted on paper. 

Affirmative answers to the following tests indicate that an email is a record: 

  • Proves a business-related event or activity did or did not occur; 
  • Demonstrates a transaction; 
  • Identifies who participated in a business activity or had knowledge of an event; 
  • Has legal or compliance value; 
  • Addresses a topic specifically covered by University requirement, law or regulation.

Examples of e-mail that could be considered records include: 

  • Agendas and meeting minutes including management teams, committees, and governing body 
  • Appointment calendars of executive-level daily appointments and activities; similar logs reflecting employee schedules, meetings, visitors, telephone calls 
  • Business transaction documentation 
  • Correspondence related to official business communications at the director level to and from others inside and outside the organization 
  • Distribution list member names and email addresses for each list 
  • Documentation of departmental and organizational decisions and operations 
  • Drafts of documents circulated for comment or approval. Those reflecting evolution of policies or programs and key factors in those decisions may be subject to subpoena and should be retained on a shared drive with subsequent revisions denoted. 
  • Final reports or recommendations
  • Grant proposals, approvals, reports 
  • Legal and financial records 
  • Organizational charts 
  • Policy, program, and procedure directives issued by the organization’s director-level staff addressing organizational operations, key functions, mission goals, or issues of public interest such as manuals, bulletins, orders, rules, directives, policy statements 
  • Press releases 
  • Transmittal emails – messages containing no substantive information that are sent only to provide attachments. Because the authenticity of an email requires retention of its metadata (the transmission data), transmittals may supply a key part of the record. 
  • Work schedules and assignments 

Emails generally not considered records include: 

  • Announcements of social events, e.g. retirement parties 
  • Drafts of documents without substantive changes 
  • Duplicate copies of messages 
  • Inter or intra-organization memoranda, bulletins, etc. for general information 
  • Personal messages not related to conduct of business (however, these could have historical value depending on the correspondent and subject) 
  • Portions of documents sent as reference or information-only copies 
  • Published reference materials 
  • Requests for information
How long to keep it

Each organization should determine how long to keep which records based on its particular mission and legal, financial, and regulatory requirements. It may be useful in making retention decisions to sort types of information into three categories – no value, limited value, and enduring value – and establish time periods to keep each group regardless of their form (paper or electronic). Remember to consider email messages and attachments as one document. 

Category 1: Email messages of no value

Retain: 0-30 days 


  • Spam
  • Personal
  • Electronic copies that have been printed out with metadata 
  • Messages to/from distribution lists (Listservs) not business related 
  • Copies of publications 
  • Routine requests for information or publications 
  • Informational e.g. holiday closings, charitable drives 
  • Copies of internal messages if the recipient is not the primary addressee
Category 2: Email messages with limited value

Retain: Indefinitely 

  • Reference use--delete when no longer needed 
  • Legal use--until litigation is settled and appeal time expires 
  • Administrative use--delete after 3 years 


  • Routine correspondence
  • Drafts or working copies of publications or reports for which a final version exists
Category 3: Email messages with enduring value

Retain: Permanently 


  • Administrative planning
  • Policy and program use 
  • Press releases
  • Reports
  • Directives