Thursday, June 12, 2008

Make Better Use of Your Subject Line

Composing an email with Gmail, from my account

As I get more and more email (especially at work) I have come to appreciate better use the “Subject” line. The subject line is one of the first things that people notice about your email and so often it is filled with subjects that barely even relate to what needs to be done with the email or the theme of the email. You can get a lot more response from your emails when you make better use of your subject lines and it can help to make your emails shorter, which most people will appreciate.

The subject field is one of the places that you can easily build credibility with your readers. Since this is one of the first things that people usually notice about emails (probably right after who sent it), why not make the subject actually fit the “subject” or theme of your email? If your email is about an important or “hot topic”, then your subject line should say so. This will help your email stand out from all the other emails received by your readers and will help it to get noticed. It is also a criteria used by many people to determine what order they read (or don’t read) emails.

Try to indicate any action that is needed within your subject line. You can do this any number of ways but the simplest way it to state what is needed from your readers? You can also state something like “ACTION REQUIRED…”. This helps to set expectations of your readers, because they know right up front that they need to do something and what they need to do. This can also get the attention of your readers because some readers will scan for emails that give cues that something is required of the reader.

Do you have a question to ask of your reader(s), why not ask it in your subject line? Your readers will see your question quickly and can respond quickly because they know that an answer is needed from them. If it is a simple question you can put in the subject line and end it with “…? EOM”. EOM” stands for end of message. This tells the reader that there is nothing to read in the email. This allows you to write quicker emails and get your answer quicker because you don’t need to put greetings and some of the other things that you might usually include in your email. It is short and to the point. If you need to explain your question, this can be done within the body of your email. How many emails have you sent where you only needed the answer to a simple question?

I’m sure that you’ve probably received emails with subject lines that looked like this “FW:FW:FW:FW:….” or maybe “RE:RE:RE:…”. With these emails that have been forwarded or replied to many times, why not remove some of the “FW:”s or “RE:”s? You only need to leave one in to make the point that this email is part of a chain. While you’re at it, why not clean up the email a little bit and remove parts of the chain that don’t add value to the discussion that has already taken place. Most email programs will indent each time the email has been forwarded or replied to, so that it is easy for people to see that your email is part of a chain. You can take out a bunch of the forwards or replies so the email is shorter and easier to read, especially if this allows you to keep the contents of the email within a normal computer screen or monitor and the reader doesn’t need to scroll through the email. The more the reader has to scroll, the less likely they are to read emails. The only time to remove forwards or replies that don’t and any value to the mail is based on who the people are that forwarded/replied were. If your department manager or a company executive is in the email chain, you want to make sure that people see that.

Sometimes you’ll send emails that don’t require any action from your readers. In these cases why not indicate this in your subject line. You can write something like, “FYI:…”, this tells your readers right away that they email is for their information and that you don’t require any action from them. If you do send a joke of funny email that you can also do something like “HUMOR:…”, this will help your readers to prioritize their inbox. Try to develop your own cues that you can use to get a good deal of your message across within your subject line. If there is a social event, how about something like, “SOCIAL EVENT:…”, this lets your reader know that this isn’t the standard meeting that should probably attend.

In a world where so many of us are deluged with email, better use of your subject line will be appreciated and is more likely to get you the results that you seek. Do you have any special way of using your subject lines? If you have any other comments, I would love to hear them. If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
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