No matter how high tech the world becomes, there are still many old-fashioned problems regarding communication. With email, you face the same challenge as you do with regular mail — convincing the recipient to open the message (or envelope).
Many email recipients delete messages without ever opening them. How do you avoid ending up in the electronic equivalent of “File Thirteen”? The answer is: by using a good subject line.
A subject line allows the reader to see at a glance what the message is regarding. It serves as gatekeeper, determining whether the message will be opened. Here are three methods for writing an effective subject line.
1. Say Something Useful
Leaving the subject line blank isn’t an option. People don’t open messages when they don’t know what they’re about. For one reason, they don’t have time to be bothered. For another, the threat of email viruses makes people nervous.
Almost as useless as leaving the subject line blank is typing the word “Hi” or “Greetings.” Those are fine for messages to your best friend or mom. But, in the professional world, it tells the recipient absolutely nothing.
2. Be Specific
People receive lots of email. To cut through the clutter and get your message read, be specific about the topic. The more information you provide in the subject line, the better chance you have of getting the person’s attention.
For example, instead of typing “Question,” try, “Question about ABC event.” Instead of typing “Proposal,” try, “Proposal for event on 7/5.”
3. Be Creative
Using a specific subject line is most appropriate when corresponding with people you know or who are expecting your message. How do you get the attention of someone who does not know you? Be creative.
In this instance, the subject line isn’t used to describe the contents of the message. Instead, it conveys some other type of information. The exact content will vary, based on the message and recipient. The key question is – what can you tell the recipient that will convince him/her to open the message and read it?
Here are a few examples that demonstrate various goals.
• To identify yourself, try “Local Meeting Planner.”
• To tell how you met the person, try “Chamber Networking B’fast.”
• To explain why you’re contacting him/her, try “MPI Fundraiser.”
• To exploit a common bond with recipient, try “Fellow IU grad.”
• To distinguish yourself from others, try “Spanish Speaking Realtor.”
There is one more challenge to overcome when crafting an effective subject line – length. Although your screen will allow you to type as many words as you want, most recipients can only view 25-35 characters of a subject line. A “character” is defined as a letter, space, or punctuation. Whenever your cursor moves a space, that is considered a character.
Since space is limited, don’t type a complete sentence. Use a phrase or series of words. Even abbreviations are acceptable, if you are certain the recipient will understand them.
Don’t leave your email messages naked. Use an effective subject line.