FAQ: What is the difference between Administrative and General Correspondence?

“Breathe while reading your email!” by Marie-Chantale TurgeonNow that we all know most emails are government records – we do all know this, right?! – sometimes it can be confusing to figure out how to categorize our emails. First and foremost, always remember that email is a format, like paper or microfilm, and we decide which record series to use based on the content of each email. We don’t have a record series for all pieces of paper, so we don’t have a series for all email, either.

Many specific records series can be applicable to email – like leave requests, complaints, agendas – because these days we use email to convey messages as much or more than with paper copies. This article will focus on two record series – Administrative and General Correspondence – which are most frequently used to categorize email not related to a more specific series. In a future article, we’ll explore other types of common email records.

To keep this short, let’s look at an example of each to illustrate the differences.

Administrative Correspondence – GR1000-26a (Local), 1.1.007 (State)

This record series is mainly for top-level staff, such as supervisors and directors, who send policy and procedure implementation or directives. The series description includes: “correspondence pertaining to the formulation, planning, implementation, modification, or redefinition of the programs, services, or projects of a local government and the administrative regulations, policies, and procedures that govern them.” The retention period for Administrative Correspondence is 4 years.

Here’s an example:

From: Sarah Jacobson
Sent: Thursday, June 20, 2013
To: RMA Staff
Subject: Dress Code
Effective this Friday, June 21, “Jeans Friday” is back. On Fridays, you can wear jeans if there
are no training sessions, meetings, presentations or events.
Sarah Jacobson
Manager, Records Management Assistance

So in this case, our department manager Sarah is the custodian of this correspondence record – which is announcing a change in agency/departmental policy – and she will need to retain it until June 20, 2017.

General Correspondence – GR1000-26b (Local), 1.1.008 (State)

This series will probably encompass most emails between you and your colleagues which document the regular course of business at your government entity. The series description includes: “correspondence pertaining to the regular operation of the policies, programs, services, or projects of a local government.” The retention period for General Correspondence is 2 years.

Here’s an example:

From: Bonnie Zuber
Sent: Monday, October 26, 2015
To: RMA staff
Subject: Blog updates
Good afternoon team,
Our new blog theme is live! We have added a few new instructions to the procedures document, so please check that out before creating your next new article. As always, if you notice anything wonky or have suggestions for improvement, just say so!
Bonnie Zuber
Government Information Analyst

As the custodian of this email – a correspondence record which documents the normal course of business between colleagues – I will need to retain it until October 26, 2017.

Further considerations

Other staff members can save a copy of Administrative or General Correspondence for their reference, but in most cases, only one custodian (usually the sender) is required to maintain the email. It’s important for everyone who uses email to manage their own correspondence and sort out emails that may fall into other record series such as internal staff meeting minutes or public information act requests/responses. If in doubt about how to classify email correspondence, think of how you would file it if it was a paper memo. We will revisit the topic of managing email in a future article, and give some more specific record series under which emails can be categorized.

2 thoughts on “FAQ: What is the difference between Administrative and General Correspondence?

  1. Thank you for addressing this subject! Two things. One, if you could also give examples of General vs. Transitory, that would be quite helpful. Two, wouldn’t Sarah’s email be a “directive”? Something that changes office procedures? To me, a change in dress code policy is more about running the office, less about Official Policy. It doesn’t seem important enough to warrant archival review, like administrative correspondence.

    (The difficulty of making these distinctions is why I am grateful that TSLAC is tackling this on the Texas Record!)

  2. Great points! Transitory is among the examples that we’ll look at next time; we just wanted to break this topic up into chunks and connect them to each other. Since classifying emails will be up to each custodian, the distinctions might vary depending on context, and like you mentioned, archival quality.

    In the case of Sarah’s jeans email, she didn’t originate that directive. She was told – perhaps verbally – by her director to hand down the info, and it was limited to a sub-department rather than a full departmental change (those lucky drivers at the State Records Center probably always got to wear jeans!) So she’s the custodian of that email containing the policy change, but it’s not exactly an ‘official’ directive as defined in the state record series 1.1.010. A record that more formally documents an official change would likely not be maintained solely via email.

    As for archival review, the archives notes for Administrative Correspondence specify that only some emails in this category merit archival review. Sarah is a supervisor whose job it is to pass on policy changes to her department, but not at the high enough level such as executive staff or division director that her emails like this would require archival review.

    Furthermore, if the jeans policy never changes, and if she’d categorized it as a directive, then she’d have to keep an email about jeans – not even a full dress code record – permanently, since that section of policy wouldn’t ever be superseded (thank goodness, because jeans are awesome!)

    Also, there is no local government series specifically for directives like in the State Records Retention Schedule. The closest match seems to be the broader category of GR1000-38 – Policy and procedure documentation – and that one also relies on whether or not the jeans-on-Friday policy is ever changed again. Basically, it’s about context. For a simple two sentence email, a supervisor would probably be better off keeping it under Administrative Correspondence for 4 years vs. potentially keeping it forever if we are fortunate enough to keep wearing jeans to work.

    Thanks for the comment and we’re looking forward to detailing more about all the various types of emails in the coming months!

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