Friday, February 19, 2010

Want to get better results from your emails? Write an effective subject line!

Perhaps the most underused feature of emails is the subject line. All too often they're a one word label or worse—there's no subject line at all! In any writing, our biggest challenge is to show our potential reader—within seconds—that what they're looking at is relevant to them. Think of it like a headline in a newspaper or magazine. That's what captures our attention. Your only challenge? Make sure it doesn't look like spam! Here are some ideas to consider:

• Include your point

• Highlight actions and completion date

• Ask a question

• Emphasize a benefit

And use the subject line to save your reader time. One of the reasons we don't read is that we don't have enough time.

• Help them sort and prioritize by providing deadline information if the message is truly deadline driven.

• If you are replying—and the topic has changed or you're asking another question—change the subject line so they don't think it's one they've read. The thread remains.

• Identify FYI messages in the subject line.

• When forwarding a message, delete the FW: and change the subject heading if the original subject is not relevant to the person you are sending it to. All too often FW: is a signal that it's a joke or other waste of time.

• Finally, here's something you can set up with a co-worker to save you both time. If you're asking a quick question, thanking them for a favor or making some other brief comment, do it in the subject line followed by EOM (end of message). If they need to reply, the can do it in the subject line and neither of you even has to open the email. Of course, this only works if they know what EOM means!

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