How to Use Email, Part 1: Subject lines

I’ve decided to publish some notes that I’ve been accumulating for a long time on the do’s and don’ts of email. Since it may get a bit long, I’ve decided that I’ll put them out here one at a time, and it will consist of at least five parts. (That way I can be lazy and not have to think up new topics for a while!)

So here’s the first thing that you can do to make yourself a more effective emailer: Always use the subject line. The subject line of an email is important. A blank subject immediately renders your message meaningless. The purpose of the subject line is to give the recipient an idea of what the message is about. It helps them immediately know what you’re talking about, and to sort the message, if they are the type who keeps email and wants to refer to it at a later date.

Very important note: Use a descriptive subject line. What may be even worse than a blank subject is a wrong subject. A subject line of “hello,” “question,” “problem,” or “help” is useless.

Be descriptive. If you write someone about next week’s board meeting time being changed, then an appropriate subject line would be “Next week’s board meeting time has changed,” or better still, “Next week’s board meeting time changed to Tuesday at 2pm.” See how quickly that helps convey your message? Sure, you could have said “board meeting,” but what does that really say? Not much. Also, for those pack-rats who keep email and want to refer to what you sent them at a later date, a subject line again helps them know what they’re looking for. Imagine how much fun it would be to sift through fifty different emails from you, all with the same subject line of “hello.” Not fun.

Also, failing to put a descriptive subject line is a good way to ensure your email will be disregarded or deleted without being read by anyone who receives a lot of email. A descriptive subject line will get a recipient’s attention.

It takes 2-5 seconds to add a descriptive subject line. Do it.

Continued in Part 2.