Write effective e-mail subject lines

Short, but informative

People. It's 2009. E-mail is not a new phenomenon. As a planet, we've been at it for a couple decades now. And yet some otherwise-very-intelligent-I'm-sure folks still haven't mastered the basics. Like writing an effective subject line.

For example, I recently received an e-mail with this subject: "From Joe User." (Names have been changed to protect the, er, misguided.)

Um, Joe? I know it's from you. It says so right there in the From field. What I don't know is what your e-mail is about or why I should read it.

Another message came with the subject, "HASSLE." Again, nothing too enlightening there. Do you need help solving a hassle or are you writing to hassle me? I've got plenty of the latter already, thanks.

I think the worst offenders are folks who can't be bothered to write a subject line at all. That's like getting a knock at the door, looking through the peephole, and seeing no one on the other side. Guess I don't need to open it!

Now, it's my job to read your mail, and I do so, happily. (Alas, I can't answer all of it, but I do try to answer questions here whenever I can.) But if you're hoping for the best possible response from any e-mail you send, it's important to take care with your subject line.

In other words, make it short but informative. If you're writing to Hassle-Free PC, for instance, give a quick description of your problem. A great example: "Computer not recognizing DVD/CD-ROM drives."

Remember, the subject line of your e-mail is the first thing the recipient sees. It should be a tiny summary of what's in the body of the e-mail. Anything else and your message might get overlooked, passed over, or just plain ignored.

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Rick Broida

PC World (US online)
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