Productivity Tip: Write the Best Subject Lines Possible

What was the last book you bought?

Whatever it was, I have a hunch that it had either a distinctive or descriptive title…

book covers

(Catch 22 and Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity are my last two and I would highly recommend both of them!)

In essence, every e-mail you send has a title too. it is called a subject line and should describe the contents of that e-mail as clearly and succinctly as possible. Yet often, subject lines end up being the most disregarded aspect of the communication. The Subject line is much like the spine of a book, describing the information it contains. I certainly would never pick up a book that had any of the following titles:

  • Photos
  • Couple of thoughts
  • Hallway
  • Chicken
  • Stuff for project
  • Team meeting

Unfortunately, The majority of the e-mails we all receive have just such Subjects. Subjects that might implicitly mean something to the sender, but usually mean nothing to the recipient. How can any professional, writing such an e-mail, expect it to be taken seriously and responded to. The fact is, they can’t. In addition, it creates problems when looking for old e-mails, creates misunderstandings of actions required, makes e-mail threads difficult (sometimes impossible) to follow, encourages e-mails to be deleted by SPAM software, promotes lax e-mailing habits, and discourages the recipient from reading your e-mail thoroughly and responding to it in a timely manner.

All this can be remedied, however, with the simple use of clear, informative subject lines to indicate what the e-mail contains.

  • FOR YOUR RECORDS: Donor Plaque – Approved (Sep 7) Final Artwork
  • REQUEST: Need PDF of Johnson Building Exterior Elevation
  • MEETING: RESCHEDULED to Mon Oct 4 @ 3PM
  • FOR APPROVAL: JPG Website sketches for Mon Nov 7 Meeting

All these subjects are detailed and communicate the contents of the email clearly. They are much less demanding of the person trying to evaluate what they should expect when (or if) they click on the link to open the e-mail. They either::

  1. State the purpose – Why are you writing this e-mail?
  2. Make clear the intended outcome – What do you want this e-mail to accomplish?

This not only reduces your recipients mental workload when opening your e-mail, but also ensures a quicker turn-around in their response. Faster turn-around means work gets done faster; work that’s done faster means greater staff morale and bigger profits; bigger profits mean more e-mails… You see where this is going? The need to have clear and descriptive subject lines takes on even more importance.

Most professionals have never been taught how to write professional e-mails. Understanding the difference between what is needed for a personal e-mail to your wife about the petunias, and a professional e-mail to a fabricator about a $100,000 installation, can make all the difference in the world.

2 Comments

  1. Just checking out your guys’ website. I see a reference from Jackie R made it into your journal….no escaping it, huh? Nice work…..

  2. it drives me nuts when people don’t use a descriptive subject line. Searching through archived emails with no clue to the message within certainly does eat up some of my time.

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