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The Subject Subject

The more we hesitate to open unfamiliar email, the more important the subject becomes. Not the subject of opening unfamiliar email per se, but the subject of the email itself: the actual “Subject” line.

My advice: take the Subject line seriously; the more thoughtful your subject, the more likely your readers are to open your mail.

In the past, the Subject line could be an afterthought. The return address identified you as the sender and the message area said what you wanted to say. Why fill in the Subject line at all?

Today, with the frequent “spoofed” emails we get that look like they are from people we know, the Subject line takes on new importance.

While you used to open an email from a friend even if there was nothing in the Subject line or when the Subject said something like “You’ve got to see this!,” you might hesitate to do so now. Spoofers leave Subject lines blank or use generic excitement to entice you to open their mail.

What can be done about this?

You can’t do anything about your incoming mail, but you can control the Subject line in the mail you send.

Rather than leave your Subject line blank, enter meaningful content: “Monday Tennis Schedule” or “Upcoming Gourmet Dinner Menu.” Don’t make your friends and colleagues guess what your email is about, or whether the mail is even from you at all.

If you are sending an email that contains a link to a funny dog video, don’t put “Hilarious Video!” in the Subject line. Rather, enter “For my dog-loving friends” or “I wish my dog could skateboard!”

You get the idea.

One other reason to be thoughtful about your Subjects: the “grouped conversation” or “threaded” email option. Some email software programs offer you an option to group together emails that are part of the same “conversation.” The program determines “threads” by grouping emails with similar subjects; when you reply to an email, the subject is the same as the original email.

If you routinely leave the Subject line blank, or you use the same Subject for every email (please do not do this!), you could have “threaded” emails that are not related. This would be quite confusing.

Be thoughtful about the Subject line. Your readers will appreciate it.