A major reason people do not read e-mail messages is because writers are sloppy about subject lines and, as a result, fail to pull the reader in.
The subject line is the first place you are communicating with a reader, the first place you are saying to the reader, “Here’s is why you need to read this.” Avoid sending messages with a one- or two-word subject line because those words will be too general and vague to be of any use to the reader.
Instead, be sure the subject line carries substantive information, and if you need seven or eight words to achieve that, use them.
Instead of “Meeting,” write “Agenda for Wed. budget meeting” or “3 things to do before Wed. budget meeting.” Be as specific as possible; it tells the reader why this is worth her time.
If several messages go back and forth about the same topic, change the subject line to reflect changes in the content. Keeping the same subject line is lazy, and it creates work for the reader, who cannot see how this message is different from all the others that were sent under the same subject line.
It is an easy trap to fall into because when we click on the “reply” button, the message box flips open with a subject line already in that box, so we ignore it and start writing. We are focused on our what we want to say in our response, but the reader might never see it because the subject line will not give the reader a reason to open it.
Using the same subject line makes it difficult for someone to look for particular details. If a person has 17 messages all slugged “Budget meeting,” it is tedious to find the one that has Judy Jones’ recommendation in it. You can keep one or two keywords so that the reader can search later, but change other words to reflect your new information.
If you are on the planning committee for your company’s annual stockholder meeting, subject lines in a few messages in sequence might look like this:
Annual meeting: planning session agenda
Annual meeting: announcement letter-please review
Annual meeting: food arrangements
Annual meeting: CEO’s talking points (attached)
A tightly written subject line helps to ensure that you didn’t waste your time writing an elaborate message that everyone missed because the subject line failed to communicate that it was worthwhile.