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Archives & Special Collections (ASC)

Records Management: File Management: The Full Deal

Information on how and for how long University of Louisville records should be retained.

7 Things You Can Do To Organize Your Files and Email


Step 1. INVENTORY:  know what you have and where it is located

With an abundance of file sharing services (Cardbox, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc), project management apps (Asana, Microsoft Teams, Trello, etc.), information systems (On Base, PeopleSoft, etc.), and ways to communicate (emails, instant messaging, text), it can be a challenge to keep track of your records.  Start by taking stock of:

  • What types of records you create
  • What dates they span
  • Where they and any corresponding paper files are stored
  • How often they are accessed
  • And if they need special protection based on any confidential information they contain


Step 2. IDENTIFY:  figure out which files and messages are important and ensure they are saved somewhere that is routinely backed up

Environments like campus servers, Office 365 applications such as Outlook or OneDrive, and tools like CardBox, which are managed by UofL's Information Technology Services or the Office of Libraries Technology, are backed up.  That means that data are copied in the event that original records are lost or corrupted.  Your most important files and messages should be saved to one of these environments.  If you find that your most important records are not only saved to places that are not backed up, such as your computer's C:\ drive or desktop, but that they are also scattered across applications, consider developing a plan to consolidate them.  Examples might include saving relevant email messages outside of your Outlook client or downloading final documents from file sharing platforms like Cardbox or Teams.


Step 3. ORGANIZE:  keep files and messages orderly and use good file names to adequately describe them

While there are many ways to organize records, the best way is the one that works well for you.  Some organizational options include:

  • Structuring content by subject (e.g. Financial, Personnel, ABC Project)
  • Structuring content by record type (e.g. Invoices, Leave Requests, Reports)
  • Structuring content by retention period (e.g. 3 years, 7 years, Permanent)
  • Structuring content by organizational hierarchy (Human Resources e.g. Benefits, Compensation, Get Healthy Now)

To assist with purging, you might also consider:

  • Separating working documents, drafts, notes, and collected data from the final product 
  • Separating active files from inactive files
  • Including a destruction date in the folder name (e.g. StaffMeeting_Minutes_destroy2020)


Step 4. PURGE: following the retention schedule and make deleting files and messages a routine activity

Deleting records as they become eligible for destruction is good records management; it maximizes UofL's finite resources and keeps the University in compliance.  Here is a list of some email messages you can immediately delete:

  • Drafts: generally there no reason to keep a preliminary draft of an email message, assuming the final version is retained and can be relied on as the official record. 
  • Spam: messages that are unsolicited commercial advertisements or malicious in nature.
  • Routine inquiries: messages that often come from outside the unit to request routine information like hours of operation, copies of publications, etc.
  • General information: messages received such as announcements that require no response, newsletter or memos, or listserv content.
  • Copies: because messages can be sent and forwarded to multiple people, copies may exist in many inboxes. In most cases, the author or creator of the message is responsible for maintaining the official record. 


For a list of how long to keep some common records, visit this page.  Can't find what you're looking for? Consult the retention schedule or email


Step 5. SAVE APPROPRIATELY:  going forward, know what should be saved and where it should be saved

Generally speaking, the more often you access your records and the more essential they are to maintaining continuity of operations, the more organized they should be.  It is useful to develop a file plan of where materials should be saved and to provide that plan to colleagues.  


Step 6. NAME CAREFULLY:  as new files or folders are created, follow best practices for naming them

 As simple as it sounds, careful file naming can help you stay on top of your records.  Here are some rules to work by:

  • Keep file names short, but meaningful
  • Do not use spaces or periods; instead, capitalize letters or use underscores to delimit words
  • Do not use special characters including commas and apostrophes
  • Include a date or version number
  • If using a date, follow YYYYMMDD or YYYYMM format
  • If using a version, include a “v” followed by the version number
  • If using numbers, give it two digits (e.g. 01, 02, etc.)
  • Be consistent


Step 7. THINK LONG TERM:  save new files in widely-used formats for long-term access

Technology is constantly evolving.  To ensure access to today's records five, fifteen, or even fifty years from now, save records in file formats that are widely used and supported. Factors that influence long-term access include how widely adopted they are, how much documentation about them is available, and what kind of software or hardware dependencies are baked in.  When saving files, use these formats:

  • Text: DOCX, PDF, PDF-A, TXT, XML
  • Email: EML, PDF, PDF-A, TXT
  • Spreadsheets: XLSX, delimited text
  • Images: JPEG, PNG, TIFF
  • Audio: AIFF, MP3, WAV
  • Video: AVI, MPEG, WMV