And the subject is…

“But if you don’t use a subject line, people will be so curious they’ll be sure to open it.”  Would you believe a lot of people have believed this old nonsense – much to their dismay?  The truth is that a bad, or absent subject line is far more likely to result in a trashed email than in curiosity.

Use an informative subject line.  And always use a subject line. Not only does this bring your reader up to speed quickly, it also helps to move you up in your reader’s priority list.   Your email must compete against many, many others to be read at all, let alone promptly.  A good subject line helps your email say “read me now.”   If you’re asking for action, or on a deadline, include that in your subject line. And with a good subject line, your reader can easily find your message at a future time. Remember to use a new subject line when you change subjects.

Stuck for a subject line?  The four most common types are (1) straightforward and clear – most often used, should be simple and to-the-point; (2) information is the subject line – good for a quick message, e.g., “ IMG 2 p.m. today room 210.” Details can follow in the body of the message, but the reader gets the basics immediately; (3) action needed – e.g., “3/10 deadline for 2011 budget info” (4) headline – e.g., “Six ABC products win firsts at state competition.”

Remember that in most email programs, a subject line is limited to 50 characters and spaces. A “re:” message will be read before a “fwd.” And here’s one we don’t often think about:  Some people are offended by receiving a “cc:,” feeling that if they need to read this email, they should be named as a primary recipient. If not, they won’t. Finally, please be sure that your email delivers the content you promised in the subject line.

What’s your favorite subject line issue?  Share your thoughts with us!

More free business writing tips from Gail Tycer are available here, and information about Gail’s Effective Email, and other business writing workshops is available here.

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© 2013 Gail Tycer •


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