The Importance of E-Mail Subject Lines

I have previously written, or at least thought about writing, about leaving your signature on the bottom of every e-mail.  I personally think that the people you work with know who you are and how to reach you so there is no need to throw your information at them every single time, especially during a string of non-stop e-mails.  There are of course exceptions but for the most part I try to stick to that school of thought.

However today, I wanted to wade into the subject of e-mail subject lines.  To go a little off course, I want to throw in another factor, the little red “urgent” flag with which you can mark important e-mails.  Luckily, it does seem like the people I correspond with know how to use if effectively and I personally only use it during extreme situations.  I think I can count the number of times I have used this red “urgency” flag in over a year on less than two hands.  If anyone who I work with reads this and finds it untrue, please do let me know.  🙂

But I digress; e-mail subject lines are like the red flag.  Stop yourself from using all caps, all the time, there is no need.  Also, try and not discuss several topics that may not pertain to the subject line and completely confuse people.  I am guilty of this and try to catch myself if I am doing it.

So what are the big no no’s that the likes of decided to dedicate a full article to?  Well, here are the top 5:

1. By typing the word “URGENT,” “ACTION ITEM” or “READ ME” in the subject line, she is hoping to stress the actionable items of her email. Her message is clear. Perception:Her subject line implies that she presumes her message is more important than any other correspondence you might have received. The perception is that she is over-confident and thinks very little of your time.

2. ALL CAPS – Intention: He’s trying to get his point across and ensure you know he means business. Caps=”this is a message that I am stressing.” Perception: Whoa. Caps-locked emails scream at you from your screen. It’s amazing how capital letters can seem so forceful, so arrogant, so—mean. The same should be pointed out for excessive punctuation. Follow AP style: use sparingly; one exclamation point is always, always enough.

3. Answering The Wrong Question – Intention: When a colleague on a group email answers questions that are under your purview before you have a chance to. He’s saving his colleague the hassle of answering—hey, he knows the answer too! Perception: It’s the online version of shouting out the answer without raising your hand. His colleague might think that he is undermining their authority or worse—out to get their job.

4. The “Always CC Me” Request – Intention: She’s hoping to avoid any problems from slipping through the cracks by being aware of all activity and correspondence. Perception: She’s a controlling micro-manager who doesn’t trust her employees. Why did she hire them in the first place?

5. Copyediting A Coworker – Intention: He wants to ensure that the higher ups see a clean, well-spoken document. By editing his coworker’s email and resending it, he ensures that the grammatically correct email is higher in the supervisor’s inbox. Perception: Public shaming of a colleague is never going to get him anywhere. Both the colleague and the supervisor are made aware of this one-upsmanship. And neither of them like it.

Read the full, Abusive Subject Line Behavior Article, and share your top pet peeves.

What did you do today?

P.S. I was happy to see that my two pet peeves, and some others, made it into Forbes’ top 10 list!


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