Why email subject lines are so important
The other day I received a message from someone whose subject line was “From Jane Doe.” (No, not actually “Jane Doe,” but you get my point.)
First of all, a subject line with your name is redundant since your email alias already identifies you and if it doesn’t, it should — unless you’re in junior high. Second, a subject line with your name is meaningless if you don’t know Jane Doe or recognize the name (and in this case, I didn’t). So even just opening that message plummeted to the very bottom of my To Do list, to be read possibly some time before never and after going through the 7,000 stories in my RSS reader. (And when I did open the message, there was no email signature — natch.)
Most people do use an email subject line for messages (although my system once malfunctioned and sent out a slew of messages without — the horror!) but it is important to use a subject line that is:
Skip subject lines with your name or with the first few words of a message (pointless — get to the meat of the message). Now that so many of us are swamped with electronic communications, people have taken to strategically ignoring their email for an hour or two (or three) so they can get work done. I specify “strategically” ignore because these folks typically respond to urgent messages — if they are marked as such.
It’s also important when to know to change the subject line on an email exchange and when to keep it the same. For example, if the content of an exchange drastically changes, consider changing (or at least modifying) the subject line so it continues to accurately describe the content of a message (and so that it reflects the message’s new / current content). Years ago, I remember having a conversation with one book publicist friend who successfully recycled email pitches — with different (and up-to-date) subject lines.
On the other hand, sometimes you shouldn’t tinker with the subject line of a message because people sometimes organize their email inboxes by subject line — particularly if the person is anticipating a lot of replies (like event RSVPs, for example) — or run searches for certain topics / key words.
An appropriate email subject line is like a firm hand shake and good eye contact. And you know what they say about first impressions.