It is said, though not yet assessed, that a large amount of potentially valuable information may reside in engineering email correspondence. If this is the case, then due consideration must be given to the role of email for record keeping, Product Lifecycle Management and knowledge management. In order to examine this hypothesis, a methodology for assessing the information content of emails, and in particular those associated with engineering projects, has been created. The method is based on a textual analysis approach that is derived from cognitive design research and social psychology and further developed through iterative applications to industrial datasets. The paper describes the development of the approach and its classifications of what the subject of the email is, why the email has been sent, and how its content is expressed. The approach is validated using an email corpus from a software design project. The method is then applied to characterize the content of 800 emails from a large systems engineering project. The key findings from this major study are then presented and discussed with respect to the character of the content, including evidence of engineering work, the project lifecycle, and implications for information and knowledge management.

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