Joined: 18 September 2004
You'd think a simple thing like a subject line would be. . .well. . . simple. But it ain't so, especially when it comes to email.
A good subject line not only grabs your recipients' attention, it also saves time and helps you organize and track down stored email. A bad subject line does none of these things and it may even lead to your email ending up, unread, in the junk mail pile.
What constitutes a good subject line? Well, at a minimum the subject should:
A good subject line should be succinct and to the point. Anything long-winded is going to get lopped off when viewed in an email program's standard display, anyway. So stick to around 50 characters or less and avoid the waffle.
On the other hand, don't take brevity to extremes. Subjects like "Question" or "Yo!" are not only cryptic, they are also a bear to organize when sorting through your email.
If your email covers a couple of topics, include them both in the subject line, separated by a comma or colon. That way, the person receiving the email gets a heads up that the email is multi-faceted. All too often, busy people read the first paragraph of an email, think they've digested the entire contents, and reply to that paragraph alone. A multi-topic subject line helps remind the reader to keep on going.
Your subject line needn't be set in concrete. If you start an email conversation and, over time, the original topic segues into something else, let the subject line morph to reflect that change.
For instance, if you email a bunch of people on the topic "Who's coming to the kite competition?" and after a week of to-ing and fro-ing the original topic has been abandoned and you're into a bunfight over which is better, LaserPro or Berry Blue kite lines, let the subject line show this. Instead of ending up with a subject line which reads:
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Who's coming to the kite competition?
eliminate all of those Re's except one (you never need more than one, anyway) and change the subject to something more apt:
LaserPro vs Berry Blue (previously: Who's coming to the kite competition?)
By appending the original subject, preceded by 'previously' or 'formerly' or, more simply, 'was', the subject line itself contains a short history of the conversation. This might not matter in your kite discussion, but it can be really useful in brainstorming or general organisational conversations:
Postponing the summer launch (was: Budget blowouts)
It doesn't matter too much if the subject line becomes long in this case, because the current topic of discussion remains visible, at the beginning.
If you regularly correspond on a topic, using an identifier at the beginning of the subject line makes it easier to find and sort through your email conversations.
For example, Woody's Email Essentials is delivered with a subject line which indicates the publication name, the issue and the main topic of the newsletter:
WEE 1.03 - The old AAAAAAA address book hoax
You can use a similar technique if you work closely with a group of people on a series of projects, prefixing the rest of the subject line with a project identifier. For example, if your work revolves around client files, you could use the client's name as an identifier:
Wiggins: Friday meeting has been moved up
Some companies require that non-business email uses a topic prefix, such as Joke: or Invitation:. Each of these techniques makes it easy to sort your email.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to subject lines, of course. All this formality may not be necessary when you're emailing a group of friends or even a bunch of colleagues who have worked intimately over a long period. In those cases, quick or quirky subjects may work.
Some people even put the entire contents of a 'quickie' email into the subject line, for example:
Shall we meet at Bruno's at 10pm?
It's not a bad technique, but given that long subject messages get truncated
when displayed in a message list, a better approach is to copy the subject
directly into the message body as well
written .By friend ...and actually he has given permission to re-publish
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Joined: 06 November 2004
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