Electronic Discovery – E-mail Chain aka String aka Thread

There are many terms that we use when working with electronic discovery. This term relates to the e-mail data. A conversation that takes place within an e-mail application is referred to as an “e-mail chain” or an “e-mail string” or an “e-mail thread”.

The very first e-mail in a conversation is the beginning of the chain, string, or thread regardless of whether it is sent to one person or many people. As we know, that first e-mail can take several turns. It could have one or more e-mail replies depending on how many recipients received it. There could be a back and forth conversation between one or more recipients. Some of the initial recipients may be dropped off of the conversation or one or more new recipients could be added to the conversation. The first e-mail or any of the mid-conversation e-mails could be forwarded to one or more individuals. And so on, and so on, and so on.

When e-mail data is collected we may or may not receive all of the pieces of an e-mail conversation. Sometimes we find ourselves in a position of trying to locate all of the various paths an e-mail conversation may have traveled. Sometimes each e-mail in a chain is considered a separate component in and of itself.  Sometimes one e-mail in a chain is useless without the preceding or following e-mail to give it context. Sometimes the e-mail Subject line is altered mid-stream. Other times, an author will use an old e-mail conversation to initiate an entirely new and separate e-mail conversation.

As you can see, there are many variables that could occur when human beings are generating e-mail conversations. The term we utilize for an e-mail conversation at a basic level in electronic discovery is “chain”, “string” or “thread.


    I am very passionate about helping legal professionals succeed. I even quit my day job to devote more time to mentoring! I want to encourage you to subscribe and join the LitSuppGuru community. I share humorous, informative, and time-sensitive emails above and beyond what appears on this site.

    Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are salesy, offensive or off-topic.

    • Findlay415

      I’ve been hearing the term email thread for 20 years, and heard the term “email train” for the first time this morning.


      • So, I just googled “email train” in quotes. I got a few hits. Apparently, other industries (not legal) have assigned this term to the same definition the legal industry uses. Interesting. Thanks for letting me know. I can bring this up in a future speaking gig. Ha!