Part 6 - Registration of Mail ( Incoming )

What is registration of mail?

6.1.1 Registration is a process of identifying and recording data about mail in order to capture it in a record-keeping system.

6.1.2 Registration comprises two steps:

  • Step 1 - stamping mail.

  • Step 2 - recording details about mail in an electronic mail-logging system.

6.1.3 Registration is essential as it:

  • Enables the capture of mail in the record-keeping system.

  • Guarantees the authenticity of mail, that is, all legitimate items bear the imprint of a stamp carrying the name of the office, and identifying details. Moreover, control is reinforced as relevant details are noted in a mail-logging system.

  • Permits the tracking of mail around the office as it is referred to various staff members.

  • Facilitates timely distribution of mail.

  • Contributes to appropriate distribution of mail.

  • Ensures that details of mail submitted to the office are retained, facilitating replacement should the need arise.

6.1.4 Registration of mail is a prerequisite to effective management of records. Staff members receive many of the records that form and inform their work, and much business is conducted, via various mail routes.

Scope

6.2.1 Mail arrives via a number of mechanisms:

  • University staff members deliver some internal and some external mail

  • Hand delivery by sender or staff member

  • Courier

  • Facsimile

  • E-mail

6.2.2 NB: However, of the five mechanisms of mail delivery noted above, it should be noted that e-mail is specifically excluded from the remit of these guidelines. E-mail then, is not registered. Other safeguards are in place to ensure its safekeeping. In any case, its creation and/or receipt and retention within the University's e-mail system affords it protection.

6.2.3 Mail addressed to all members of staff of the office must be registered if it relates to the official business of the University. It is remarked elsewhere in this records manual that records may concern the University but not touch on the statutory positions of the President or Vice-President. While such records are excluded from the office's main filing system, they should be registered as incoming mail. The principal reasons for this is to aid the orderly transaction of business, and secondly, to sort incoming mail into categories would be time-consuming.

6.2.4 Frequently, mail is marked private and confidential, or a variation on this theme. Mail marked as such is to be opened by those members of staff responsible for the registration of mail.

6.2.5 Personal mail should not be registered as it is not the property of the University. Moreover, it should not be opened by anyone other than the intended recipient. If necessary, separate mail-logging systems should be put in place to facilitate the management of personal mail. It is presumed that this will primarily affect management level staff members. A decision to introduce such systems and their administration rests with them.

6.2.6 Ephemera refers to items that are not of lasting importance. Ephemeral items are usually published and are created for a specific event. Their significance is not meant to last longer than this event. For the most part, they are not hugely important to the transaction of business activities, and replacements can be easily obtained. Frequently, no action is taken on these items. Items often deemed ephemeral are as follows:

  • Duplicates

  • Advertising flyers

  • Price lists

  • Catalogues

  • Some internal University publications

  • Some external publications

  • Stationery

  • Greeting cards, for example, Christmas cards

For the most part, items that fall into these genres need not be registered. The categories outlined above must, however, be applied intelligently to incoming mail, and users should strive to recognise when items, even if they belong to one of the genres mentioned above, may require registration. For example, copies of many internal University publications are sent to the President's Office for information and no action may be taken on them. Publications in this category might include Eolas and The College Courier. An internal publication on which action might be taken would be a published copy of the University Accounts. An item like this should be registered. Users then should strive to discern differences between items. In relation to some items, like Christmas cards, it may be useful for administrative convenience to put another control mechanism in place, for example, a database noting receipt and response could be created.

Operation

General principles

6.3.1 General principles that should inform the registration of mail are as follows:

  • Registration and distribution of mail should be treated as a priority and occur in a timely fashion. This is imperative to attain efficient transaction of business.

  • All mail should be registered in an adequate manner. This indicates that identifying data are accurately and comprehensively recorded on mail and entered in the mail-logging system.

  • Registration should occur in a consistent manner. This indicates that users must adhere to the guidelines and rules that govern the registration of mail.

Responsibility

6.3.2 It is recommended that everyday responsibility for the mail-logging system be vested in one nominated member of staff. Principally, this will involve stamping and logging details about mail.

6.3.3 The nominated member of staff should regularly report to a nominated member of management level staff on matters relative to the registration of mail. Such issues would be progress and suggested alterations. Records of staff responsibility should be retained.

6.3.4 A daily record of those staff members who register mail should be kept. This should be retained in hard copy. It might be retained in a register format and comprise the following categories of information. Entries should be recorded in ink:

  • Date.

  • Name of staff member.

  • Signature of staff member.

  • Range of item numbers inputted.

These records should be retained for at least three years after creation.

6.3.5 The nominated member of staff should support and advise all other members of staff in their interaction with the mail-logging system.

6.3.6 All members of staff have a responsibility to keep the mail-logging system in good order, given its centrality to the operations of the office.

6.3.7 All members of staff should be trained in the registration of mail, and especial attention paid to the training of a primary alternate. This enables continuity of operation if the staff member who is primarily responsible for this task is absent.

6.3.8 Some organisations insist two members of staff are present during the opening of items of mail. Really, this applies to organisations in receipt of cash. The office may wish to adopt a similar policy.

Efficiency

6.3.9 As mail arrives at the office via diverse mechanisms and at different times, interrupting the routine of the working day, it is necessary to establish some protocols in relation to its registration.

6.3.10 The timely receipt of mail is extremely important for the efficient transaction of business activities. Therefore, its registration and dissemination must be a priority, over and above other work.

6.3.11 The following procedures should be followed:

  • Upon receipt, mail marked urgent should be registered and disseminated immediately.

  • All other mail should be registered and disseminated as soon as possible after receipt, and always within 80 minutes of receipt.

  • The registration of mail should be addressed as a priority task upon arrival by staff members at work, and at all times following breaks during the working day.

  • In order to facilitate efficient distribution, it should be the explicit responsibility of one member of staff to disseminate mail to other members of staff. For the sake of convenience, the person who registers mail might distribute it.

6.3.12 Each member of staff should provide a specific area within their offices for incoming and unprocessed mail, for example, an in-tray. This will:

  • Foster more expedient dissemination of mail

  • Ensure secure delivery of mail

  • Aid in segregation of incoming, unprocessed mail from all other records.

Step 1 - Stamping mail

6.4.1 The first action to be carried out when mail arrives at the office is stamping.

6.4.2 The stamp should bear the name of the office and University.

6.4.3 The following details should also be noted on the document at the time of its arrival at the office:

  • Date - refers to date received; even if date of stamping differs from date of receipt.

  • Document number - refers to a unique identifying number borne by each mail item. The document number is a consecutive running number. Numbering begins with number 1.

  • File number - indicates in which file the mail item will eventually be placed. All files in the filing system are numbered. It is essential that the file number is allocated prior to distribution of mail to staff members for action. This is in order to facilitate the placement of file numbers on all outgoing mail.

Procedure

6.4.4 The following steps should be followed where mail is stamped:

  1. Preferably, the front of the top sheet of all items of mail should be stamped.

  2. Where possible, sheets constituting parts of main items should be stamped. Compliments slips etc attached to items should be stamped only as an exception.

  3. In some cases, it may not be possible or appropriate to stamp the front of the top sheet of items, for example, if the item in question is:
    • A cheque

    • Particularly important, for example, a legal agreement

    • Fragile, for example, an archival document

    • Artistically important, for example, a sketch, photograph, map etc.

  1. In any of these or similar instances, the reverse of the top sheet of the item or the top of the nearest available subsequent sheet may be stamped, if it is felt that this is appropriate. An alternative would be to temporarily affix a slip of paper with a paper clip to the front of the item, and stamp that.
  2. The impression made by the stamp should be clear.

  3. The impression made by the stamp should not impinge upon any information that constitutes the content of the item.

  4. Where possible, discrete items that form part of the same mail transmission should be permanently fixed together, preferably with staples.

  5. Items of mail may comprise several discrete parts, for example, a report may accompany a letter. In some instances it may not be feasible to staple together parts of items. Examples of these occasions might be any of those outlined above, or if items are too bulky. If discrete parts constituting the same mail transmission cannot be stapled together, each should be stamped and the same document number placed on each. Each discrete part should then be sub-numbered, that is, if three discrete parts form document number 1001, they would be numbered as follows 1001(1), 1001(2) and 1001(3). The sub-numbers should be inputted in the subject field of the mail-logging system, and adjacent to descriptions of items of mail.

  6. Paper fasteners or other attachments which may cause damage to items should be removed, for example, metal paper clips, rubber bands, superfluous staples etc.

Step 2 - Mail-logging

System design

6.5.1 The mail-logging system is retained in the form of a database.

6.5.2 Given that the mail-logging system retains a large amount of data, a database format is particularly useful as it:

  • Enables the creation of a user-friendly interface

  • Permits detailed probing and rapid querying of the mail-logging system.

Inputting data

6.5.3 Up to 14 categories of data are inputted in the mail-logging system about each item of mail. One further possible data category is currently omitted from the database. That is file number. As users begin to employ the mail-logging system it may be found useful to add this data category, thus bringing the fields to be completed to 15.

6.5.4 Consistency in how data are entered is significant if the system is to be effective. Data must be inputted in a standard form and in accordance with a controlled vocabulary. This is essential for effective querying of the system. Lack of standardisation of data input will result in incomplete retrieval of information from the system.

6.5.5 The need for consistency has led to the formulation of general rules, as well as scope notes and specific guidelines for each data category:

  • General rules - outline general precepts to which users must adhere in inputting data in the mail-logging system.

  • Scope notes - describe what data may be entered in each field of the database. Specific data are allowed in each field and limits are set so that there can be no doubt as to what is included and excluded by them.

  • Specific guidelines - delineate the format which entries must take.

6.5.6 General rules, scope notes and specific guidelines are significant for easy maintenance of the system, and despite their specificity and detail, effect easier operation for users. Users of the mail-logging system are presented with defined recommendations, and as a result, do not have to innovate when inputting data. Rather, the existence of standards and rules removes the necessity for this. It is specifically recognised that the registration of mail is an operational tool, and should be as practical as possible.

6.5.7 In addition to the standardising influence of general rules, scope notes and specific guidelines, consistency is best achieved by appointing one staff member to input data in the mail-logging system.

6.5.8 All members of staff should be well versed in the registration of mail. One member of staff should work especially closely with that person principally responsible for the registration of mail in order to facilitate continuity during absences from work. The responsibilities of staff members in the registration of mail should be documented.

General rules

6.5.9 The following general rules should be respected when data is inputted in the mail-logging system:

  1. The data inputted in the mail-logging system must be concise and clear rather than cryptic. It should enable easy identification of items of mail. This is the overwhelming rationale for recording and retaining data about mail.

  2. Consistency must be achieved in inputting data in the mail-logging system. In particular, this refers to use of abbreviations and acronyms, that is, words must take the same form at all times. As an example of this; if users employ the acronym UCC, it must be used at all times thereafter, and the full title, University College, Cork, should not be used, except where it forms part of a direct quotation extracted from an item of mail.

  3. As it is presumed that names constitute a principal search term when locating specific mail items, consistency is particularly important where the names of people and organisations are concerned. It is recognised that reference to certain individuals, particularly University staff members will arise time and again. Reference to them need not be formal, that is, initials may be used.

  4. Over time, users of the mail-logging system should compile a list of abbreviations and acronyms used when inputting data. It may be held in a Microsoft Word document and retained in alphabetical order.

  5. Care should be exercised with the spelling of words and names inputted in the mail-logging system. Users should strive to copy spelling exactly from mail, except where it is obviously incorrect.

  6. Furthermore, users must take care when using accents on words and names. Again, consistency should be exercised. It might be decided to omit accents entirely.

  7. Where it is difficult to decipher hand-writing, or the user is uncertain of something which forms part of the description of the mail item as entered in the mail-logging system, the user should use square brackets to indicate this. For example, if the user cannot decipher the surname of a signature, the best estimation of the signature should be recorded as follows, Mark [Murphy].

  8. All data categories must be completed for each mail item. No blanks should be left. Should data categories not apply to a mail item n/a should be entered in the appropriate fields of the database.

System content

6.5.10 The table that follows lists and explains the data categories which comprise the database contents.

No. Data category Scope Rules
1 Document number Each mail item is to bear an identifying number.
  1. The number assigned to each document must be unique. The number will be taken from a running sequence beginning with number 1.
  2. The document number recorded in the mail-logging system should match the number on the mail stamp.
2 Date created Refers to the date the document was created.
  1. All dates should be recorded in the following format dd.mm.yyyy, for example, 12.10.2002.
  2. Where there is no date of creation, date sent may be recorded if it is discernible. If date sent rather than date created is recorded, this should be noted, that is, '(date sent)' recorded after the date.
3 Date received Refers to the date the mail item was received by the office.
  1. All dates should be recorded in the following format dd.mm.yyyy, for example, 12.10.2002.
  2. Date entered here should be date of log-in, even if date received and date of log-in do not coincide.
4 Delivery time Indicates as closely as possible, the time an item of mail was submitted to the office.
  1. Time entries should refer to the 24 hour clock rather than the 12 hour clock.
  2. Should an item be delivered when the office is closed, the following or similar may be used: -09.15/ 13.00+ / 17.00+.
5 Delivery method Refers to how mail items arrive at the office. The following are the usual methods of delivery, and one of them, where appropriate, should be chosen and inputted:
Delivery by
  • University postal staff
  • Hand delivery
  • Courier
  • Facsimile
The name of those persons who hand-deliver mail need not be noted.
6 Sender name Refers to the name of the person(s) who sent the item.
  1. Users should strive to achieve consistency in how names are entered.
  2. If item is sent anonymously or using a pseudonym, this should be noted.
  3. If there is no sender name, and only the name of an organisation, the latter should be inputted.
  4. No titles/positions to be entered in this field.
  5. Regular correspondents may be identified by the use of their initials rather than full name, as long as documented.
7 Title/position Refers to the title/professional position of the sender(s).
  1. Title/position should refer to the context in which the letter was written, for example, University Presidents may write a letter in capacity of Vice-Chancellor of the National University of Ireland. Entries in the mail-logging system should note distinctions.
  2. Marital status may be entered if required, for example, Mr, Mrs etc.
8 Organisation/address Refers to the name of an organisation or the address of a private citizen. Should organisation names be abbreviated or acronyms used, consistency should be effected.
9 Sender reference Refers to reference numbers or other symbols used by senders on mail items. Includes reference numbers on invoices and purchase orders etc. The form of the sender reference should exactly follow that used on the mail item.
10 Addressee name Refers to the name of staff member of the office to whom an item of mail is addressed.
  1. Given familiarity, initials of staff members may be used as a matter of course.
  2. Should a mail item be addressed to the office rather than an individual staff member this should be noted.
11 Subject Refers to the main subject(s) of the mail item.
  1. This data category should be used, not to summarise the contents of the mail item but to describe it in such a way that allows it to be distinguished from other items.
  2. The subject line should not be relied upon as accurately reflecting content.
  3. The subject field should always note receipt of cheques or other forms of payment. The names of the payer and payee, amount and cheque number should be noted.
12 Immediate action Refers to the action taken by the user who inputs data in the mail-logging system in distributing mail. At a minimum, the initials of the staff member to whom the mail item was disseminated should be recorded.
13 Subsequent action(s) Indicates actions taken in respect of the mail item once the immediate action has been completed. There may be any number of subsequent actions. All subsequent actions prior to:
  • filing the mail item in the office or,
  • destruction of the item, if not filed or,
  • distribution to another office
must be recorded.
NB: Contents of field should not be deleted as item of mail is referred from one person to the next. It should show the path followed by the item.
14

Awaiting reply

Indicates if reply from elsewhere within or outside the office is awaited prior to further action.
  1. Should mention name of specific person from whom reply is awaited if possible, and if not, office, department, organisation etc.
  2. The contents of this field should be changed to reflect current status.

Follow-up data input

6.5.11 It is recommended that one member of staff inputs data in the mail-logging system about mail submitted to an office, but with reference to the Subsequent action(s) and Awaiting reply fields, there may be a need to re-visit these data categories after initial input.

6.5.12 The identity of staff members who will be responsible for follow-up data input should be decided and documented. A few scenarios are presented here and suggestions made.

6.5.13 Following the initial distribution of mail, should that member of staff who is in receipt of an item of mail complete the business transaction, no further input in the mail-logging system is required.

6.5.14 Other circumstances may require further data input. The following procedures should be followed:

  1. Should the member of staff who completes the immediate action wish to refer the item of mail to another person either internal or external to an office, one of the following methods should be employed:

    • the item should be marked as such and returned to the staff member with principal responsibility of the registration of mail or,

    • the person who completed the first transaction should take the next step.

  2. One of these persons will enter in the mail-logging system what the subsequent action will be and will distribute the mail to the person who will execute the subsequent action. Should referral be to a person external to an office this person will prepare the mail item for dispatch.
  3. This procedure should be followed every time a subsequent action occurs.

6.5.15 It is preferable that mail is referred back to the person who logged the mail in the first instance. As few persons as possible should be implicated in information and records management procedures. This is in order to diminish the possibility of discrepancy. In summary, the procedures outlined here facilitate the creation of a centralised channel through which mail passes.

Multiple users

6.5.16 More than one staff member may use the mail-logging system for the purpose of inputting or editing data.

6.5.17 In order to maintain clarity about the identity of users, each should use a distinct font colour for the input of data.

6.5.18 Once each user has been assigned a font colour, it cannot be changed without the permission of the member of staff responsible for registration of mail, and the management level staff member who oversees the operation of the system.

6.5.19 Moreover, no user is permitted to input or edit data using the font colour assigned to any other user.

Distribution of mail

6.6.1 The staff member who is principally responsible for the registration of mail should distribute it to others members of staff. To promote order, each staff member should have an in-tray to retain only incoming mail.

6.6.2 Staff members should agree on paths of distribution for mail. A path should be decided on for the mail of each member of staff of an office. Essentially, this means that mail addressed to members of management level staff may, in the first instance, be tendered to administrative level staff members who report to them.

6.6.3 Mail distribution paths should be documented and a file compiled and retained by the management level staff member responsible for overseeing the registration of mail.

6.6.4 Agreements should be updated on the occasion of change in the structure of an office, that is, if posts are abolished or created, or if staff members take up employment or leave the employment of an office.

6.6.5 Furthermore, procedures should be put in place for the distribution of mail when staff members are temporarily absent from work.

Security

System size

6.7.1 For several reasons, it is important that the mail-logging system is not allowed to grow to an unmanageable size:

  • To ensure ease of retrieval of data when querying the system.

  • To allow security and back-up copies of the system to be retained on remote storage mechanisms, for example, zip disk or compact disc.

6.7.2 Moreover, once matters referred to in items of mail have been dealt with, data about them in the mail-logging system loses its urgent importance. To conserve space on computer hard drives it is more economical to remove inactive data and begin a new mail log.

6.7.3 Mail logs should cover a period of no longer than six months, or considerably less, and depending on the size of the file. Staff members may find that certain periods of the year results in the production of greater amounts of mail than others. For advice on the establishment of new mail-logs, see Establishment of new mail-logging systems.

Back-up copies

6.7.4 In order to ensure the continued availability of the mail-logging system in the aftermath of a disaster situation or in the event of a computer crash, it is imperative that back-up copies of the system are maintained. The following procedures may be put in place:

  • The mail-logging system may be stored on a computer hard drive. The staff member who has responsibility for the mail-logging system should back it up at the end of every working day onto a remote storage mechanism.

  • A weekly back-up copy should be created at the end of every working week, and retained for four weeks.

  • Back-up copies should be retained on a suitable storage medium, for example, compact disc or zip disk.

  • Back-up copies should be kept at a secure location, ideally off premises. If off-premises storage is not feasible, back-up copies should be retained in a fireproof safe.

  • The following information should be recorded on each back-up copy of the mail-logging system:

    • Mail-logging system number (see Establishment of new mail-logging systems).

    • Period covered, for example, 1 January-1 April 2003.

    • Mail item numbers, for example, 1-2000.

Technological advance

6.7.5 Data which are retained electronically are notoriously more difficult to care for than information stored on more traditional records media, for example, paper. Technological advance is a very real threat to the stability of data stored electronically. Over a relatively short period of time, both computer software and hardware may develop to the point where it is no longer possible to access some records. Therefore, steps should be taken to ensure that the mail-logging system continues to be accessible for as long as required:

  • Copies of back-up mail-logging systems stored on computer hard drives should be converted to new software platforms as they are introduced. Advice should be obtained from technical experts if there is any danger that data may be lost or altered.

  • Copies of back-up mail-logging systems held on computer storage mechanisms should also be converted to new software platforms.

  • A further step that requires to be taken with floppy disks, compact discs etc is that their contents should be transferred to a new storage medium fairly frequently. This measure is necessary as their life-span is fairly short. For example, it is recommended that the contents of floppy disks are transferred to a new storage medium on an annual basis. Other storage mechanisms should be changed at least once every three-five years.

Transmission via e-mail

6.7.6 The mail-logging system should at no time be e-mailed between staff members. The mail-logging system should be treated as a confidential file, as it contains, in most instances, enough data about mail for correspondents and issues to be identified.

6.7.7 With e-mail systems, there is a real danger of erroneous transmission. Unauthorised disclosure of personal information is an offence under the Data Protection Act, 1988, and the FOI Act.

Delivery

6.7.8 For security purposes, mail should ideally be surrendered to a member of staff. It may be prudent to put in place a number of strategies to ensure compliance.

6.7.9 If the reception area is not manned, signs may be placed there directing those delivering mail to surrender it to a member of staff.

6.7.10 At times when an office is not open, a practical method of achieving safe delivery may be to have a letter box sited in or adjacent to the main door into an office.

Filing

6.8.1 In some organisations, mail is placed on relevant files prior to its distribution to staff members. This method has three principal advantages:

  • Ensures that staff members have to hand incoming mail and can see it in relation to related records.

  • Minimises loss as fewer loose records circulate in an office.

  • Staff members can add related records to files as they create them.

6.8.2 However, the addition of mail to files prior to its distribution to staff members is not recommended. There are several reasons for this:

  • As files do not have to be retrieved and mail added prior to dissemination, the distribution of mail is sped up considerably.

  • Not all items of incoming mail must be considered with reference to other papers. Therefore, placement of records on files prior to distribution may constitute needless delay.

6.8.3 Should the recommendations outlined above be followed, the procedures delineated below should be implemented:

  • Staff members would request files from the staff member responsible for the co-ordination of the filing system as necessary.

  • Staff members who process incoming mail, and create responses should place records related to completed transactions in a specific area of their offices, for example, an out-tray.

  • The staff member responsible for filing records should collect those retained in out-trays and file them.

  • Collection of records for filing should take place at least once every two days. They should then be filed immediately.

6.8.4 Of course, if the filing method outlined here is not effective or working to the best advantage of an office, management level staff members might decide to have records filed prior to their distribution to staff members for action.

Establishment of new mail-logging systems

6.9.1 As stated in a previous section, the life of any mail-logging system should not exceed six months.

6.9.2 In order to facilitate the creation of a new mail-logging system, the following steps should be implemented:

  • A blank copy of a mail-logging system should be retained on both a computer hard drive and remote storage mechanism, for example, a zip disk or compact disc.

  • When a new mail-logging system is begun, the previous log should be placed in a specific electronic folder containing all back mail-logging systems. This is a further security mechanism as it is recommended that at least two copies of every electronic file are retained.

6.9.3 Provision must be made for numbering items of mail. Numbering may begin from number 1 and proceed to an upper limit. The provision of an upper limit means that there is less likelihood of the confusion that accompanies long numbers. Preferably, the upper limit should be 10,000. This does mean that within a relatively short period of time there will be two number 1's, 2's etc. Each mail-log should be allocated a number. Therefore, the first item in the first mail log will be 1/1; the 101st item in the 41st mail log will be 41/101.

6.9.4 The number of the mail-log should be added to all records of the mail item number.

Training

6.10.1 All members of staff should receive practical training in the operation of the registration system. A primary alternate should be nominated to replace the person responsible for registering mail.

Principal tasks

6.11.1 Following is a list of the principal tasks associated with the registration of mail. Where necessary, it is recommended that specific staff member(s) are assigned to execute each task. The identity of the nominated staff member(s) should be documented.

6.11.2 A member of staff can be appointed be complete more than one of the following tasks:

  1. Receive mail.

  2. Stamp mail.

  3. Log data about mail in the mail-logging system.

  4. Prepare mail for distribution to staff members.

  5. Distribute mail.

  6. Record follow-up data in the mail-logging system.

  7. Return mail for centralised dispatch if appropriate (optional).

  8. Dispatch mail referred elsewhere for action or comment.

  9. Oversee the registration of mail (management level staff member).

  10. Compile a list of abbreviations. Outgoing mail

Office of Corporate and Legal Affairs

Oifig um Ghnóthaí Corparáideacha agus Dlíthiúla

1 st Floor, East Wing, Main Quadrangle,

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