You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

Many blogs and web pages help you craft a quality message.   I encourage you to take a look at those from time to time to ensure that best practices are part of your arsenal of business tools.

However, of all those tips, tricks and traps of email etiquette, there is one particular attribute of a quality email that stands above the rest—that is a well-crafted subject line.  Below are six points of consideration on how best to help your readers from the very first words they see.

MAKE SURE YOU USE A SUBJECT LINE.

Not taking the time to put in a subject immediately deprioritizes the message.   If you don’t take the time to label your communication appropriately, you should not expect anyone to take the time to look at your communication.

MAKE SURE THE SUBJECT LINE IS MEANINGFUL.

Informal phrases such as, “Oh, while I’m thinking about it” or, “BTW…” do not convey meaning to the recipient who is scanning email messages.  In a busy enterprise or a busy lifestyle, there are bound to be messages that forever go unread.  Useless and meaningless subject lines might result in your message being ignored.

MAKE SURE THE SUBJECT LINE IS ACCURATE.

Particularly when forwarding or replying to emails, make sure the subject line accurately represents the current topic and status in the thread of the conversation. For example, let’s say an email with a subject of “Cindy’s Divestiture Project” morphs into a discussion about “Asset Reallocation.” New persons added to the thread responsible for assets may ignore the email about “Cindy’s Divestiture” since they are not on that project.

MAKE THE SUBJECT LINE EVEN MORE USEFUL.

As in project management, many people process countless emails as part of larger processes, workflow, and team coordination.   Additionally, people are often working on more than one initiative at the same time.  Therefore, putting project names in subject lines as a way to auto-index the context can be very helpful when reviewing messages for follow up. For example, emails with a subject “Project Butterscotch=Asset Review” and “Project Butterscotch=Relocation Timeline” would be useful follow-up email subjects to the original email titled “Project Butterscotch.” With this, all messages for the same project are quickly visible when scanning inbox or sent items.

MAKE SURE SMART PHONE REPLIES HAVE A SUBJECT LINE.

Many smart phone email apps do not automatically retain a subject line.  And, unless you check for a subject in a smart-phone sent message, there is a good chance that message will not have a subject at all.  Using your phone for email is no excuse for doing a poor job of communicating.  One additional warning about smart phone email apps is to make sure you do not put your entire reply as the subject line.  I’ve seen this done too, and it is just as frustrating for the reader as not having a subject at all.

GOOD SUBJECTS PROMOTE YOU ABOVE SPAM.

SPAM filters use various algorithms to keep unwanted email from recipient’s eyes.  With this, good subject lines may or may not get past an automated filter.   However, beyond the automated SPAM, a good subject line will allow your readers to see quickly that your message is truly not SPAM. As a result, they are more likely to read the quality content you’ve crafted for them.

In the end, it is a matter of respect.   You show respect for your recipients when you help them predigest a message with a meaningful subject line.  Not taking the time to craft a quality message, with a useful subject, could imply a lack of consideration for the recipient.

I thank you for reading and leave you with this: I am a corporate consultant and project manager.  I process dozens of emails a day.  I am an employee of AfidenceIT, and I am here to help.

 BILL CILLEY

AfidenceIT Consultant