The University of Massachusetts Amherst


Archiving and preserving email can be important for legal, historic or personal reasons.  Active email archiving is necessary to make sure your email will not be lost to the digital dustbin.  Leaving messages in your web-based email client or in a mail program is no guarantee that they will survive.  Here are some tips on how to preserve your email for the long term.

Archiving tips

Select your important files:

  • Select the folders, directories, or individual messages you wish to save.

Export your files:

Determine how you access your email

Email is stored in one of two places:

  • Locally on your computer where it is viewed by an email client like Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, or Apple Mail.
  • Remotely on an email web server where is it accessed by logging into a website such as UMail, Google Mail, Yahoo, etc.

Export your email as a .txt file:

From a local email client:

  • Select the folders, directories, or individual messages you wish to save and export or save them as TXT, (aka Text), files. 
  • The process may be slightly different depending on which program you are using (e.g File>Save As, File>Export, File>Archive, etc)

From a remote email client:

  • Select the folders, directories, or individual messages you wish to save and export or save them as TXT, (aka Text) files. 
  • Some email providers may not allow you to download or save messages unless you have a premium account.  If this is the case, you will need to sync your account to a local email client like Outlook, Thunderbird, or Mail.  Consult the documentation for those programs on how to setup your web mail account. 
  • UMass Amherst IT has extensive documentation on how to setup a UMail account within all of the popular email clients.

Download any attachments you wish to save:

  • Attachments such as photographs, documents, music or video files will have to be saved separately.  Download or save any attachments to your computer. 
  • Saving word processing docs as either PDF or TXT files is the safest way to guarantee its accessibility into the future.

Organize your files:

  • Give individual messages and attachments descriptive filenames if they don’t already have them.
  • Organize messages and attachments into folders on your computer.

Save files in formats that are optimal for long-term preservation:

  • Saving email attachments as either PDF or TXT files is the safest way to guarantee their accessibility into the future.

Make copies and manage them in different places:

  • Keep multiple copies of your email files in different locations and on different media forms to ensure the best chance of long-term preservation.
  • One copy may remain on your computer, but putting several other copies on separate media such as DVDs, CDs, portable hard drives, thumb drives or Internet storage will be the best protection against loss.  
  • Store copies in different locations that are as physically far apart as practical. If disaster strikes one location, your audio recordings in the other place should be safe.
  • To be as safe as possible create 2 copies of your email files. Put one away as your master copy without modifying it at all and use the other one for editing, emailing, etc. When you need another copy to use, make a copy of the master file and work with the copy.

Long-term storage is a key element in preserving your files. It is important to realize that no storage medium is permanent in the digital environment. Any storage medium used will require some maintenance to keep its contents viable for the longest period possible.

Currently the most common media used for long-term storage are:

  • CD/DVD – common form of storage and cheap.  (Optical media will face longevity issues, so this should be a considered a short-term solution)
  • USB drive – very common storage method and relatively inexpensive
  • External hard drive – Holds large volumes of material and is a bit more expensive.
  • Internet/Cloud storage – generally subscription-based for a respectable amount of space

Check files and refresh storage media on a regular basis:

  • Check your saved files at least once a year to make sure you can read them and that they are still relevant and worth continued archiving.
  • Create new media copies every five years or when necessary to avoid data loss.

Migrate files to newer formats if needed:

  • Attempt to stay current with major shifts in standards, software, hardware, platforms, and formats to ensure that your files are in a common, readable format.