Pin Me

Create Strong and Effective Email Subject Lines for Better Organization

written by: Meryl K Evans•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 7/5/2011

Email subject lines are not only for the person receiving email, but also for you. Do you want to open every email message trying to find a specific email? Better subject lines help you scan your email for what you need when the search tool fails.

  • slide 1 of 1

    Bad Subject Lines

    What do you think when you receive an email with no subject line? For many, they consider this spam. However, some not so email savvy people leave them blank without realizing the consequences. Email subject lines also help you though. If you want to find a specific email message, it's easier to scan the names and subjects than it is to open every message containing the keyword(s).

    So without further ado, the following lists bad subject lines:

    • [blank]: Not only do blank ones feel like spam, they also might not get read as fast as they should. Since nothing tells you what's in the message, you figure it can wait until later unless the sender's name is enough to provoke you to open it.
    • Today, Tomorrow, , Lunch Thursday?: What makes you think the person will open it today or before the right Thursday arrives? We take it for granted that everyone reads email within 12 hours. Not true. Instead, shoot for a specific date like "Tuesday, January 20" or the topic of the message beyond the time period.
    • Do you know if ...: This is the first part of the first sentence in the email message. It sounds like a good idea, but it fails the scanability test. Scanning message lines won't tell you what's in the contents of the message.
    • Hello, Hi, Howdy: Spam. Enough said.
    • Check this out: Sounds like spam. Many good emailers do this, too, when they send something they want to share. Unfortunately, a lot of spammers use it, too. Instead, use the topic of the article of resource.
    • FW:FW:RE: [Subject line]: This could be two things: a lot of exchanges between you and one other or one of those infamously forwarded 1000 times messages. When it's an exchange between you and someone else, you might need to rename the subject if the conversation takes a turn. This is to help you with scanning. For those repeatedly forwarded messages, you could be the nice person and clean that up or stop forwarding. Use CCleaner to clean up all the >>>>.
    • Vague: A good example is "Interview." It sounds like something good for you, but it could end up being a publicists who wants to know if you'd like to interview his or her expert.

    Some personal contacts -- as opposed to business -- might prefer you to email them to their work email address instead of personal. In this case, show respect by putting something like "Low priority: [topic]" or keeping it short and impersonal as you never know if the company reads all incoming emails.

    Fans of Getting Things Done and other similar organization programs find it useful to add one word followed by the subject. These could be "Question, Response, FYI, News". For example, "Question: Doctor referral" or "FYI: IT News resource." This tells the person what kind of email message to expect. FYIs are usually for filing while Questions expect a response.

    If nothing else, when sending an email -- ask yourseif if the subject line you use would help you if you needed to search for the message by scanning. Go the extra mile and clean email. Between better subject lines and a cleaner emailbox, you will find and file things faster.