JS Tip 160: From the Writing Workshops: Effective Subject Lines

Admit it.

This morning, you deleted e-mail based on the subject line alone:

         Auto Price Finder (Click! Delete!)

         Ultrasound Tech Degree (Click! Delete!)

         Plea from Widow of Finance Minister of . . . (Click! Delete!)

An effective subject line—one that will prompt your readers to open your e-mail—has two parts:

A Signal Word

A word that signals the purpose of your e-mail:

Request                        Announcement
Recommendation         Update
Questions                     Answers

Notice how the signal words on the left indicate action; the signal words on the right indicate information.

Put your signal word first in your subject line.

(These aren’t the only signal words in the world. If you’re not sure what signal word to use, ask yourself, “What is this? What am I writing?” “It’s a request.” Bingo. “It’s a suggestion.” Bingo.)   

A Summary

The content of your e-mail. What is it a request for? What is it an update on?

Request for Tax Information from 2008-2010
Update on Phoenix Diversity Workshop
Suggestions to Improve Lock-out/Tag-out Procedures

An effective subject line—one with a signal word and a summary—will help your e-mail get opened, read, and acted upon.

If you have questions, comments, or arguments, let us know. We love this stuff.

Next week, we’ll go to the other end of the e-mail: Signatures. We’ve received questions about signatures lately.