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Monday, June 11, 2007

Writing E-mail Subject Lines

I’ve been thinking about e-mail subject lines more lately especially with the recent flurry of legitimate e-mails coming in without one. A Lifehack entry recommends using one of the following four items in a subject line:

* Question
* Response
* Spam

Very GTDish, indeed (Getting Things Done). Although, “spam” in the subject line is a laugh. Real spammers aren’t going to use it. Perhaps, the author’s spam suggestion was for those e-mails (jokes, warnings, urban legends) forwarded many times. Maybe use “Humor” or “Forwardthon.” OK, so the latter isn’t realistic. But using “Forward” along won’t work since most e-mail applications use that to represent a forwarded message or “FWD.”

Blank Subject Lines - Bad

Whatever you do, don’t leave it blank. When someone I know sends an e-mail with a blank subject line, I respond gently letting the person know that blank subject lines tend to go into the junk folder. So far, it’s worked and no one has responded (yet) that I insulted them with my “use the subject line” advice.

Sending Personal E-mails to a Work Address

Some people prefer receiving all e-mails at their work address, even personal e-mails. So when I send an e-mail to a work address that’s not work-related, I try to respect their work time by entering a subject of “Low priority,” “Personal,” or something related to the contents of the e-mail.

Change the Subject Line

Has the e-mail conversation taken a turn from the original conversation that the subject no longer fits? Change it. Sometimes I forget to do this. In discussion groups, the standard is, for example, “Re: Baseball Was: Soccer team in finals.” The new subject line appears after “Re” with the former subject line going after “Was.” I don’t bother with this when exchanging e-mails with one person, I simply change the subject line.

Date-related Subject Lines

Subject lines like “Meeting Tomorrow” and “Lunch Thursday?” don’t work well. If the person sent the meeting e-mail on Tuesday and I open it on Wednesday, I might think the meeting is on Thursday not Wednesday. While I could check time and date stamp on the e-mail, they’re not always accurate. Though “Lunch Thursday” identifies a specific day of the week, if I open it on Wednesday or even Thursday… it’ll confuse. Use the date to avoid confusion.

Vague Subject Lines

The best example I can think of is “Interview.” OK, so is the person asking if I will interview someone? Or does she want to interview me? The difference between the two is big. Someone is more likely to jump at the opportunity to be the interviewee as opposed to do the interviewing.

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