Email Subjects 101

When I open my inbox, the sender's name is most important in deciding which email I read first. If I've been away from the computer for a while and have a number of unread messages, for me the order is as follows: Messages from my wife, then family, then close friends, cooperative clients, so-so friends, challenging clients, newsletters and blogs to which I've subscribed, and finally, people who think they are my friends. The only exception to this order is when I'm expecting e-confirmation for delivery of a "tech toy" I purchased online -then email from or other vendor gets my first, eager attention.

The next factor in email priority is the subject line. There is an art to writing a great email subject line and few try to master it. People with whom I exchange emails earn a reputation with me for writing fantastic or terrible subject lines. Some subjects are vague, with misspelled words, no punctuation or use of case. Others are profound and a story in and of themselves. I love to get an email with a well-thought-out subject line. It satisfies and prepares. A masterful email subject line is like great back cover copy on a novel; it sets up the perfect summary and context, preparing me for what's inside.

Examples of terrible subject lines include classics like: "hey" or "moving forward." I'd rather see no subject than to guess what we're "moving forward" on.

Using "I'm sorry" or "I love you" as an email subject is OK because the context will probably be clear to the reader. Yet, I still think recipients will get a better buzz if they hear, rather than read, those messages.

A personal peeve of mine is a subject that continues in the body of the message. For example:

Subject: Do you want

[Message Body] to go to lunch?

I don't know why that annoys me but it does -the same way a book entitled "Once Upon" would annoy me if chapter one began, "A time..."

The most egregious subject, in my opinion, is a forwarded, 20-generation email with a terrible original subject. Multiple FWD's make a subject line atrocious -automatically. My email program deletes any message with FWD in the subject except when my name is contained in the message body. Forwarded chain letters, hoaxes and "not-so-funnies" disappear so I can read and reply to messages from people who took the time to write to me.

So call me an email subject snob -but I can't help it. Be my close friend and it won't really matter what your email subject is -you're gonna get read!

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