Saturday, October 29, 2005

Nowadays, even the cat sends email...

...but does anyone read it? Probably not, if the subject line is "Hey!"

Today's rant is about email subject lines. The scope of the rant is personal and business email (as opposed to commercial email and its creepy cousin, spam).

A subject line can be the most important part of any email message you send or receive. Three reasons:

  1. It, along with the sender's name, determines whether the email gets opened and read, set aside for later, or deleted.
  2. It can (considerately) set expectations for what's in the email (good or bad news, critical information, an amusing joke, time-consuming demands on the recipient, etc.)
  3. It distinguishes the message from the dozens of others in the recipient's inbox by indicating that it's urgent, important, or interesting

Yet, I get email with the following subject lines every day:
(Response: huh?)

A question
(Response: About what? Is this going to take all day to deal with?)

(Response: What computers?)

Are you there?
(Response: No, a robot is reading my email.)

You get the idea. A particularly infuriating variation on the clueless subject line involves an onging work project, let's call it "Starshine," in which hundreds, if not thousands, of emails have been flying back and forth -- about Starshine splash pages, Starshine product briefs, and Starshine icons. Then, three or four months into it, someone sends an email with the oh-so-informative subject line:


(Response: You've got to be kidding.)

If people want their emails read and responded to -- and want to increase the chance that the recipient will read them in a reasonably good humor -- they should put the message, or a good clue to it, right in the subject line:

Capote Sunday night?

I passed the bar exam!

Question: email software programs

FYI: New condo regs in Seattle

URGENT: Mom's plane delayed

Fun: Bush pursued by mongooses

Attached: Pix from Tokyo

Bottom line: It's flattering to an email recipient to see by the subject line that the sender has taken the time to tailor the message -- to (gasp) actually communicate instead of grunting "Hey!"

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