“Urgent Assistance Requested.” “Need Cash?” “Confidential.” “From an admirer.” “Our Little Secret.” “Information you requested.”
E-mail subject lines like those once would have gotten instant attention from the recipient.
But in this spam-plagued era, most of the 100 million people in the United States who use e-mail electronic mail would probably trash such a message unread. Any message that even hints of spam, or junk email, gets deleted.
It's no longer enough for an e-mail message to be legitimate. The message also must look legitimate in the split-second that a recipient may spend in making that key decision: Read it or delete it?
Subject lines are becoming a critical factor in getting e-mail messages through - even to people you e-mail with on a regular basis.
When an inbox is bulging with dozens of messages in the morning, it's easy to overlook a familiar name in the “From” column and hit “delete.” Get into the habit of scrolling through the “Deleted Items” box before cleaning it. Chances are that you will occasionally find messages deleted by mistake.
Lists of tips on writing more effective e-mail used to suggest personalizing the subject line by including the recipient's name: “Cindy, here's the info you requested.” Spammers, however, now have embraced the advice. Putting the recipient's name in the subject line now may label the message as spam, and assure that it gets deleted unread.
Other tips for writing effective subject lines:
Avoid using all upper case letters. Many people think that capital letters in an e-mail subject line or body means you're YELLING at them.
Subject lines that continue the topic, or “thread” of a previous exchange are good. Example: “Re: vacation.” They show that you are replying to a previous message, and help the recipient mentally shift gears back to that topic. Some people change those lines to show the sequence: “Re: vacation2.”
Keep it short, not longer that 60 characters. Put the important words first, or they may get cut off when the subject line displays in the recipient's inbox.
Make each subject line specific to a topic. That helps if you later need to search for all messages on a topic. To search with Microsoft Outlook, for instance, go to Edit on the Toolbar, select Find in the popup menu, and select Message.
Never leave it blank. A blank subject line is one of the spammers' latest tricks. Recipients are learning to trash those messages without a second look.
A subject line also can be used to start a message. Example: “John Smith called and...” The message body then would continue: “wants to meet for lunch today at 1 not 12:30.” A subject line also can be the message: “Lunch at noon today?”
Subject-line-only e-mails can be used as a substitute for chat, when regular online chatting isn't available. They work for quick, short exchanges between people who know each other well.