A daily report showing messages caught by our spam filter reminds me how awful most subject lines are, even on legitimate emails. We could all be more efficient if people stopped these bad habits:
- Generic subjects. Often the spam report will show half a dozen messages with the same type of nonspecific subject, such as “Hello,” “Invitation” or “Your order.” Those types of subject lines don’t entice me to open a message, even if I know the sender. When the sender is unknown to me, I’m suspicious that a message with a generic subject line is spam, even if it cleared our filter.
- Too many words. With Outlook’s Reading Pane turned off, some subject lines are still too long and are cut off in my list of messages. A subject line should be like headline, not a paragraph. (It should be complete, too. Don’t start a sentence in the subject line and finish it as the first part of the message body. That’s jarring, and some people consider it rude to omit a salutation.)
- No “call to action.” Answer the question at the top of recipients’ minds: “What do I need to do?” Just adding the words: “Action Required,” “Reply by (date)” or “No Reply Necessary” will allow recipients to work through their messages faster—and respond quickly when you need them to.
- Outdated subjects. In a series of replies, people usually keep the same subject line from the original message and often the topic has changed. Update your subject line when you reply to a message. For example, if someone requests a conference call with me, I might reply with the subject line “Confirming call Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern.”
- Inconsistent subject lines. I love using Rules in Outlook to automatically send messages that I can read later into folders. If you adopt common subject lines for the types of messages you and your colleagues exchange frequently, using Rules is easy. But remember to proofread emails before you send them: A misspelling not only will slip past a Rule—it will send the message that you are unprofessional.
Download the Free Report “25 Tips for Using Email More Efficiently” from OrganizedExecutive.com.
[Image Source: Ray Smith]