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How To Write an Email, Part 2: The Subject


Robby

The subject line of an email is probably the single most important piece of the entire message. A good subject will cause a message to be read and processed. A bad subject will cause it to be ignored. If your subject is really terrible, then it might just go directly to spam.

Let me start by sharing with you the worst possible subject line for an email, followed by the second worst. Here it is, the most awful title imaginable for an email message:

 

That’s it. A blank subject. These days, they are less common because so many email programs give you a warning if you are sending an email with a blank subject line. But it’s pretty clear that if your summary of the entire email is just empty space, you don’t have much to summarize!

Here’s the second worst:

hey

Again, there’s no real reason to open this email. It’s just an off-hand greeting. It might contain some information, but there’s nothing to convince the recipeint that you have anything to say.

Instead, remember this simple rule for writing subject lines: BURP. That’s right “burp!” In this order, you want subject lines to be brief, use words that represent appropriate urgency, ensure that is as relevant as possible and finally personalized to the receiver.

Let’s say, for example, that you want to write an email to provide information about an upcoming event that will be delivered to a potential customer. Here’s a particularly terrible way to write this subject line:

Extrapalooza is coming soon to Indianapolis, Noblesville and Carmel, Indiana! Discounts and details inside

This might sound like a great subject to the sender, but it’s not helpful to the recipient. Fourteen words isn’t exactly brief. The phrase “coming soon” doesn’t really indicate the degree of urgency. Most recipients will not have heard of “Extrapalooza”, so this is not relevant. Listing multiple cities doesn’t exactly show personalization. In short, this subject line fails the burp test.

Instead, consider this version:

July 30 – Family festival in Carmel –  Come to “Extrapalooza!”

This is only nine words, it contains an exact date, and explains what “Extrapalooza” actually is. It’s personalized to the city of the recipient. It passes the bump test perfectly!

Here are some more examples:

(Before) Subject: Various Topics
(After) Subject: Meeting Agenda AND Research Report

(Before) Subject: Should your company and your marketing department consider using QR codes?
(After) Subject: QR codes – Good for business?

(Before) Subject: re: re: re: re: client meeting
(After) Subject: POSTPONE Adalade Construction Meeting

With a little thought, your email subjects can dramatically improve!

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About the Blogger: Robby Slaughter is a productivity speaker and expert. He is a principal with a AccelaWork, an Indianapolis consulting firm.

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Mon, June 20 2011 » Personal Organization, Technology Tips

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