How to Use Email, Part 2: Better Subject lines

Use a descriptive subject line. What may be even worse than a blank subject is a wrong subject. A subject line of “hi,” “question,” “problem,” or “help” is practically useless. Be descriptive. If you write someone about next week’s board meeting time being changed, then an apporpriate subject line would be “Next week’s board meeting time has changed.” See how quickly that helps convey your message? Sure, you could have said “board meeting,” but what does that really say? Not much.

Also, never reply to an email unless you are really replying to the contents of the message. For example, let’s say I email you regarding a quote on a new computer. Because I use descriptive subject lines, the subject of my message is “Quote on new computer system.” Now, a couple of months later, you want to send me an email. Because you are lazy, you look in your inbox for an email from me, and reply to it. Your email has nothing to do with the new computer system I quoted you, but because you have replied using the same subject line, I think it does. This is like leaving a message on someone’s answering machine and saying “Hey Peter, give me a call about that new computer system,” and when I call you back, you tell me you wanted to talk about something completely different.

Finally, tell the recipient why you are writing the email. Here is an example of a useless email, regardless of subject:”Please call me.”

Why should I call you? Here’s a novel idea: tell me what you want to discuss in your message! If you don’t do that, then you’ve completely missed the point of email. Would you write someone a letter asking them to call you? Or call someone and ask them to write to you? Not likely. Once you have their attention with the email, ask for what you need in the email and save everyone some time.

Continued in Part 3.

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