E-mail: Say It In the Subject Line
Create a Compelling Subject Line
The subject line is the most important piece of information in an e-mail message. It’s the first and only hint as to what your message is about—unlike a letter where the body is in full view. There are people who get hundreds of e-mail messages a day, and they can’t possibly read them all. So, if your subject line doesn’t seduce your readers, they may never open your message. If you look down the subject line column of your inbox, perhaps you see subject lines such as these that give you absolutely no information and no reason to read the message.
Can you help me?
I’m sure you’ve read USA Today. The front page has a column called “Newsline” that gives informative headlines of what’s happening around the world. You can read the headlines and get a snapshot of major stories. Wouldn’t it be informative to read the subject column of your inbox and get that same level of information? Always include in your subject line a key piece of information so your reader can get the gist of your message at a glance. Notice the following sets of subject lines and how much more information appears in the line with the asterisk.
* 15% profit expected for Q2
* We were awarded Waller project for $2.5 million
* MIS: Urgent meeting May 20 @ 2 PM in Blue Room
Think About the Benefit to Your Readers
When you craft your subject line, think about why your readers should want to open your message. Make the payoff clear. Will your readers learn some valuable industry news? Will your readers get a great deal? Will your readers save time or money? And never be misleading. If your e-mail is about a computer product, don’t pretend in the subject line that you have free tickets to the World Series.
Deliver Your Message in the Subject Line
When you can, deliver your message as the subject line and don’t bother writing in the text box. For example, you may write I’ll finish the report tomorrow morning—SLR and not even deal with the text box. When you put your initials at the end of the message, your readers get to know that the message “is” the subject line. You can also use –END or –EOM, for end of message. I don’t recommend this type of electronic shorthand when you write to someone you don’t know. It’s for colleagues you communicate with regularly. However, you should always use a descriptive subject line, even when you write in the text box.
Following is a series of e-mail subject lines I exchanged with a colleague. We rescheduled a meeting, and neither of us ever had to open the text box. (I usually don’t recommend scheduling appointments via e-mail because of the back and forth. However, this colleague doesn’t respond to voice messages but checks her e-mail a gazillion times a day.)
Mon. doesn’t work. How’s Tues? —SLR
Tues is NG. How’s Wed? —MN
Wed. is fine. —SLR
See you Wed. at 3:15 —MN
Note: When you first start sending subject lines without writing in the text box, most people will “get it” right away and start to respond in the same manner. A few, however, may let you know that they “didn’t get your message.” You can merely tell them that you try to save them time and deliver the message in the subject line when you can. When they see your initials at the end, they’ll know you’ve done that. They, too, will start responding with this electronic shorthand.
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