Lesson 7


Write a Clear, Meaningful Subject Line

 

Competencies

This lesson teaches the following competencies:

  1. Specify the e-mail's contents in the subject line.

  2. Describe the message's importance in the subject line.

 

Lesson Summary

The lesson summary contains the training information with few examples and activities. Read it if you want to go through the training more quickly. To skip to the full, detailed lesson, click here.

 

Introduction

The subject line of your message is the first information the reader sees. It often determines how quickly the reader will read and respond to the e-mail and the mindset with which the reader will approach the message. Since your goal is to make sure your e-mail is read and the reader responds as you expect and when you expect, the subject line is at the vanguard of your strategy to write e-mails that have impact.

Always write a subject line for every e-mail.

When you are replying to an e-mail, change the subject line to match your reply message.

Write a Subject Line that Reflects the Objectives

Make the subject line reflect the objectives you have for the e-mail as well as the content:

Inform

Describe the central message in a few words. Choose key terms the reader will understand immediately. If you are responding to a request, include the key terms the requester used.

Generate action or stop action

If feasible, state the action that must begin or must stop in the subject line.

Provide reference material

The reader will have to retrieve this e-mail later. Make sure the first key term is one the reader might think of when looking through an alphabetical list of e-mail messages.

Persuade

If you want to persuade or have the reader respond to an appeal, the subject of the e-mail may reflect what is in the subject that is of interest to the reader, or benefits the reader will receive if the results of the e-mail come about.

Convey the Importance of the Message

If the contents are very important or have a time constraint, consider stating that in the subject line: "IMPORTANT - Results of the test." "RESPONSE NEEDED BY 5:00 TODAY."

Use such appeals infrequently. If you use them regularly, people will learn to disregard them when they come from you.

Write a Subject that Meets the Reader's Needs

If you have the option to do so, word the subject as a benefit to the reader. You don't own your e-mail messages; your readers do. You just set up the e-mail message for them.

If you are responding to a request from the reader, use the reader's request in the subject line: "The Ferndale data you requested."

Length and Format

  1. Since most e-mails are brief, subject lines can be two to five words. Include the key terms among the first three words.

  2. Occasionally you might capitalize a word for emphasis, but do so sparingly. Do capitalize words that normally should be capitalized, such as "I" for yourself. You may choose to capitalize words as you would in a title, or write the subject line with only the first word capitalized.

  3. Make sure your grammar and spelling are correct.

  4. If you're combining two completely unique ideas, it is appropriate to use a combiner (and, &, ;, or +) to join them. For example, a subject line such as "Meeting Date + Project Guidelines" tells the reader what the message will contain with a minimal number of words.

 

Full, Detailed Lesson

Introduction

The subject line of your message is the first information the reader sees. It often determines how quickly the reader will read and respond to the e-mail and the mindset with which the reader will approach the message. Since your goal is to make sure your e-mail is read and the reader responds as you expect and when you expect, the subject line is at the vanguard of your strategy to write e-mails that have impact.

Always write a subject line for every e-mail.

When you are replying to an e-mail, change the subject line to match your reply message.

The subject line also becomes one of the primary indexing tools for e-mails. For your own sake, make it easy for the reader to locate your e-mail later by including a subject line that describes the content of the e-mail.

Guidelines for writing the subject line follow. Considering the content of the subject line will enable you to accomplish your objectives with the reader, both when the reader receives the e-mail and later when he or she needs to retrieve it.

Focus on the Reader

Have clear objectives for your e-mail. Then, use all parts of the e-mail to accomplish your objectives. Usually, your objectives will be one of these four:

  1. Inform

  2. Generate action or stop action

  3. Provide reference material

  4. Persuade

Think of the e-mail in reader terms. What will the reader know, feel, believe, or do? Then use that information as you plan the e-mail so you have the impact you want to have.

 
Write a Subject Line that Reflects the Objectives

Make the subject line reflect the objectives you have for the e-mail as well as the content:

Inform

Describe the central message in a few words. Choose key terms the reader will understand immediately. If you are responding to a request, include the key terms the requester used.

Generate action or stop action

If feasible, state the action that must begin or must stop in the subject line. Word it so the reader is aware of the action. One company has adopted the convention of writing ACTION REQUIRED, then the subject of the e-mail. That lets the reader know that he or she must read this e-mail to learn what the action is and when it must begin or stop.

Provide reference material

The reader will have to retrieve this e-mail later. Make sure the first key term is one the reader might think of when looking through an alphabetical list of e-mail messages. For the rest of the subject line, write a succinct statement of the reference content using words you believe the reader will use when the need for the contents arises so he or she can locate them.

Persuade

If you want to persuade or have the reader respond to an appeal, the subject of the e-mail may reflect what is in the subject that is of interest to the reader, or benefits the reader will receive if the results of the e-mail come about. The decision, action, or belief that is the subject of the e-mail may not be presented until later in the e-mail, after you have built your case.

 
Convey the Importance of the Message

If the contents are very important or have a time constraint, consider stating that in the subject line: "IMPORTANT - Results of the test." "RESPONSE NEEDED BY 5:00 TODAY."

Use such appeals infrequently. If you use them regularly, people will learn to disregard them when they come from you.

 
Write a Subject that Meets the Reader's Needs

If you have the option to do so, word the subject as a benefit to the reader. You don't own your e-mail messages; your readers do. You just set up the e-mail message for them.

If you are responding to a request from the reader, use the reader's request in the subject line: "The Ferndale data you requested."

 
Write a Successful Subject Line

If coming up with a clear subject line at the beginning is difficult, write your message first, then summarize the content succinctly in one appropriate subject line.

 
Length and Format

  1. Since most e-mails are brief, subject lines can be two to five words. Include the key terms among the first three words.

  2. You do not need full sentences.

  3. Occasionally you might capitalize a word for emphasis, but do so sparingly. Do capitalize words that normally should be capitalized, such as "I" for yourself. Don't capitalize words as you would in a title. Write the subject line with only the first word capitalized.

  4. Make sure your grammar and spelling are correct.

  5. If you're combining two completely unique ideas, it is appropriate to use a combiner (and, &, ;, or +) to join them. For example, a subject line such as "Meeting Date + Project Guidelines" tells the reader what the message will contain with a minimal number of words.

Example Subject Lines

The following are all examples of good subject lines:

Jenson project information - read today
Confirm Jane Smith's interview
Need your ideas for the new project
Outline for Tuesday's meeting & minutes
Meeting January 10 - Attendance required My ideas for recruiting for youo to react to

 


Quiz