The Bad or Missing Email Subject

Working in IT and growing up with smart phones is great; but we have seen the decline in basic computer skills due to quick message apps.

One of the biggest skills that is effected is the email subject. We believe the plethora of apps for smart phones for quick messages is one of the biggest issues as they have no such thing, and combine this with the lack of understanding to what an email is; this is having a hard job to survive!

The beginnings as a letter

what is a Subject Line?

A subject line is not always necessary in letters; but they are good practice as they inform the reader to what the letter is about or topic of the letter.

There are three common methods to distinguish the subject line from the body of the letter:

  1. Starting the line with either “Subject:” or “Re:”
  2. Using a bold font for the subject
  3. Writing the entire subject in capital letters

how is a letter formatted

If you go back to your school days, if you can remember back that far? We used to have lessons in English where we wrote letters and learnt the structure of them.

Here is an narrated image showing a letter and where the certain items of the letter should go.

Here is an narrated image showing a letter and where the certain items of the letter should go.

In the above image I have deliberately used updated terms for each section for reference letter. One thing to note is that the subject in American English can be as shown above or above the “Dear Recipient” line.

Modern age as Emails

how does this translate to an Email?

First of all, the term Email standard for “Electronic mail”, where mail is the term for letters and parcels sent via post. So Email is basically an electronics letter, so the above format discussed apply!

As you can see, the image to the left is an email client with the same letter written.

Making it easier, computers label the areas for the content for you.

When you compare this to the letter, you will notice so missing parts like the date; this is due to this being added by default upon sending the email.

so why do email subjects matter?

This is the big question, and surprisingly it does matter lots; especially in business.

Leaving the subject blank

Lets say you do not write an email subject, when the recipient receives the email they will have your name only with “(Blank)” or something similar as the subject/topic.

This has three big issues

  1. The recipient might not read you message as they have no idea what it is about.
  2. Spam or Filtering systems might block the message so it is never received.
  3. If you need to reference the message you have not subject to search on or reference the message by.

Large subject or body content in subject

Email clients on a computer generally show about 60 characters of the emails subject, where a mobile phones email client show about 25.

Making your subject too large means it is not readable and does not convey the required information.

Typing your email content in the subject line is extremely bad practice, but it is done more often than you think!

Simple one word or repeated subjects

In the modern world of emails, one of the great advantages is that you can search for items and content with ease. This only works if the content is well written, and two perfect examples of this are:

  1. Searches inside emails – If repeated or bad subjects searching is not possible as it will list too many of the same items meaning you have to read each one defeating the object.
  2. Web Pages – Google and other search engines rate pages on the quality of content, so if it is structured well with no repeated titles / headers it gets catalogued and indexed correctly.

Improving subjects

There are so many ways to improve your subjects so you are seen and replied to. Some of these methods might also depend on what or who you are writing to as well.

Get into the habit of writing your subject first!

By doing this you layout what the email is about, so should aid you in sticking to the point of the email instead of drifting onto different subjects.

For instance, if you where reporting an issue to your IT provider; you might have the subject of “MS Word will not print”. Straight away they know the application and the function you are having issues with.

Keep the subject short!

As we know, email subjects are not 100% visible if too long; so keep them sort but informative.

Do not start a sentence…

Do not start a sentence in the subject line and finish it in the email body, this does not provide information about the email and makes it hard to read.

Don’t put words in ALL CAPS for attention or urgency

When using technology, ALL CAPS is seen as someone shouting and generally being rude. Obviously this is not nice and can be caught by email filters.

Instead of doing this, write a more constructive subject to catch peoples attention or use “Urgent:” at the start to highlight this fact.

Summary

Looking at the above, I hope you have learnt a little history about the subject line, and can see how this can be used to it’s full potential to improve your communication.