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Recordkeeping 101: E-Mails

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

As mentioned in a previous post, this is a re-writing of an article that was previously lost, prior to my hospitalization. Although the information discussed will be largely the same, if not identical, I had to basically recreate this article from scratch. I will be more careful in the future to ensure this doesn't happen again.

Image from Hillary Clinton's Benghazi Hearing.
"At this point, what difference does it make?" E-mails are a great way to expose aggressors and/or incompetent people. Save them, and securely archive them!

I'm going to start my article a little differently today from the way I typically start them --- with a relevant case study. Above, we see an image from the Hillary Clinton trials regarding a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) security breach during her tenure as Secretary of State. In this particular incident, Ms. Clinton allegedly stored several classified e-mails on an insecure, private e-mail server, resulting in the leakage of sensitive information to outside agents. Sensitive information can be dangerous in the wrong hands.


However, in the right hands, it can be a powerful tool that can protect you from harassment and mistreatment by your employer. How do we use e-mails though? How do we save them? How do we properly archive them for quick retrieval of information? This is what we intend to discuss in this article.


E-mails are one of those things that we understand as both students and employees are important, however, only within a certain period of time. Once we have finished reviewing these e-mails, we may leave them sitting in our inbox, forget about them entirely, and may ultimately end up deleting them when our inbox's storage capacity is nearly filled up, without giving it another thought. Let's think about this for a moment though.


From my experience, companies and academia are generally stingy when it comes to e-mail storage space for both employees and students. This is something that we may overlook as a trivial inconvenience, but the real meaning is that employers are aware that having to frequently save and archive e-mails can be a tedious, cumbersome task, if not impossible in some cases. As an additional precaution, however, many employers, including my institution will try to intimidate employees into deleting old e-mails through company policies. Before blindly following these policies, always make sure to ask "why"? Why can't I save work e-mails? Is this a state law? Is this a federal law? Depending on your state, your mileage may vary. However, in certain cases, it is permitted to save e-mails, that one may think are pertinent/relevant to agency investigations and/or legal litigation. When in doubt, save it.


Do not, however, let your employer or your supervisor know you are doing this. Do not give them the benefit of the doubt, and whatever you do, do not arm your superiors with extra information that can cause them to retaliate against you. Do it covertly. Do it consistently. Do it thoroughly.


Any and every e-mail can potentially be a tiny piece to a massive puzzle. Even if you think it is "spam", if it is from your institution, your supervisor, your program, or your department, SAVE IT.


That said, how do you do this? There are many potential ways to do this, however, from my personal experience, the easiest way to save an e-mail to your private device is pull up a particular e-mail chain of interest, click the print icon, and then set the printer to "Print to PDF". Understandably, this may not be a convenient option for people who have only decided to recently start archiving work e-mails. Depending on how soon you start, and how your school sets up their e-mail server you may have some more options.


In my particular case, the IT department rules over their e-mail server with an iron fist, and uses highly restrictive settings that make downloading e-mail correspondence frustratingly tedious. The IT department also disables many of the features in MS Office Webmail that would otherwise streamline this process, again making e-mail archiving a tedious endeavor. However, there are some ways around these restrictions.


For MS Outlook Webmail, I have found that the best workaround for these restrictions is to compose an e-mail draft for yourself, pop out a window of this draft, select all of the messages you would like to save in your inbox, then drag and drop them into your draft, allowing you to include these messages as attachments. Then you can bulk download them as a *.zip file, and delete the draft. Rinse, wash and repeat as necessary. Before you know it, you can somewhat efficiently save about 100 e-mails at a time. Doing more than this is not recommended, as it may overload your school's exchange servers (depending on how large the e-mails are that you're downloading). This will limit your ability to send and receive e-mails, until your IT department fixes this, so be cognizant of the file sizes of the emails you are attaching in your drafts that you're writing to yourself.


Another option you may want to consider is to set up rules that will automatically forward new school/work e-mails to your Gmail/Hotmail/etc. account, which can then be used as a way to secure your e-mails on a private account. Additionally, you can then set up your private e-mail account on MS Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird, which have built-in features for e-mail archiving. This method should be implemented as early as possible due to the limited e-mail rules you can set up for older messages.


In more lax environments, it may be possible to directly set up your school e-mail in an e-mail management program such as MS Outlook (a local copy on your machine), or some alternative such as Mozilla Thunderbird. If this is the case, then you are in luck. These software offerings have built in archiving tools that streamline the e-mail saving process, and allow you automatically download and save e-mails to your computer, or you can manually download e-mails from your inbox with minimal effort.


After saving your e-mails to your machine, it is highly recommended to then go back through your messages and rename the files based on topic and date. This will make it easier to know the context of the e-mail simply through the filename, without having to open it and look through its contents. As you continue to accumulate more and more e-mails, you'll thank yourself later for doing this.


Considering the lengthiness of this article, we will stop here for now. If anything is unclear or doesn't make sense to you, please feel free to contact me, as I discussed in one of my

previous articles. I will be more than happy to supplement the methods I described in more detail, as necessary. Thank you very much, and happy archiving! Next, we will discuss how to maintain phone logs.


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