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March 24, 2007


Jim Lane

Your post does not answer the the original question: "should I put the client's name in the subject line." Where's your rationale other than a quickie barb that is not really a sufficient reason?

Why not? You save me a great deal of time by having it there - client I want info about, I'll read it - if not, then I can move right on past it without wasting my time. You waste my time to often, bye-bye - I'll either unsubscribe to all your messages or put your firm in a trash filter. Now none of your client's messages reach me. Enough me's, you accomplish nothing for your clients and they may say "bye-bye" to you.

Now, on to the points:
Here's the stuff I have differences about:

* If it’s urgent, say so.

- SORRY this is usually a spam flag, especially if someone is in a hurry on the reading end. I cannot remember the last time I opened an "urgent" message - even if it survived a filter.

* Avoid words that “sell” like “free,” “buy,” and “call now” – they’re like flares to spam filters.

- As is "urgent," "FYI," and "Hi!" mentioned elsewhere. Use of the username like wise!

* Have someone else write it – You’ll be surprised at how effective this can be.

- Interesting!

* Avoid dates in case it gets cut off – March 26 could appear as March 2 depending on the recipient's setup.

- Ever thought about using "26March?"

* Don’t let your subject line be your message –

- To clarify, if you only send the header info. If your message continues with detail, then it is okay.

A good summary, one really interesting take and some items up for discussion because each of us is different on how we handle incoming email.

Dan Santow

Jim, thanks for your thoughtful comment here. I’m not suggesting that one should never put the client’s name in the subject line, but if it’s not going to contribute to someone opening the message, then I don’t see how it helps. I do, however, think you make a great point about the word “urgent” and I’ve deleted that “tip” from the original post. Glad you’re reading my posts carefully and adding your viewpoint.


In regards to the subject at hand, I just hate it when e-mails come in with "Hi" or "No subject." It makes things so much more difficult to find later on, and I can't prioritize them.

Personally, I always try to describe the basic intent of the email, like

"PER REQUEST: The web links you wanted"
"FOR REVIEW: Rain Forest Rescue conference pages"

Of course, these are for internal e-mails. I tone down the caps when I'm sending to external addresses, as that's a spam flare, too.

Glenn (Customer Service Experience) Ross

I agree with everything you say, except for not using "FYI." At least for co-workers. I work hard to maintain effective relationships with them and I use words such as >, > and >. Then I try to do just as you suggest to entice them to open up.

I enjoy your blog.



Robin Ginn

Thanks Jim. Here’s a rule-breaker for you from the acronym-laden land of Microsoft. When the subject line is the message, some use the acronym (eom) – “end of message” – following the subject line. Example: Cocktails resched to Friday 7 p.m. (eom).


I agree with Robin. I work in an architectural office (not super techie) and the use of saves us all a tone of time. I endorse subject-only emails, when appropriate.

Of course you'd never want to send those to new clients or your Aunt Lulu who still has AOL.

Dutch Driver

Good comments, particularly about using /eom.

Two quibbles.

Start the email with a project acronym or code word so filters can sort it for you.

And I use standard formats like...
REQUEST: topic
QUERY: topic

And partial topics followed by an ellipsis seems to increase reader response.

PS: Writing the subject line first helps to focus my message so I stay on point.


Email Subject Lines:a good one improves data retrieval

A good subject line, in my opinion, is a subject line that improves the
retrievablity of an email after it has been sent and received.

In my experience email has become the defacto repository of our written
communications our own personal database of "things we need to know." How do you find the email Nancy sent last month with that need-to-know info?
Do you use your email search feature or do you opt for the quick & dirty
alphabetical or chronological sort and search? Well, I tend to sort and eyeball it and I have stood shoulder to shoulder with many a co-worker
mumbling "I know I saved it to this folder, it came in around Joey's
birthday party,um give me a second I know it's here let me sort by..."

A good subject line works with the quick & dirty sort search and in
your email client's search feature. A good subject line uses a unique
primary keyword followed with any need-to-know info. Most email clients
have one-click sorting allowing you to sort by sender, received date or subject line.
Make your subject line count in a sort don't be one among the many
emails with "RE:" at the start of your subject line.

Good Subject Line:
Meeting: Program Committee rescheduled Monday, 03-24-07,6:00 PM

Better Subject Line:
Program Committee:03-24-07,6PM Monday (New Date)

Great Topic, now I have a few ideas about voicemail messages too.



Things to add:

-Avoid all caps. They set off spam filters and make the subject line difficult to read.

-Avoid using exclamation marks; they also set off spam filters.

-Using questions (even rhetorical questions) tends to provoke curiosity. Example: Birthday cake, anyone?


I agree with all except for:

"Change the subject line if the topic of the e-mail itself has changed, though include the original subject line in brackets if you can. Example: "Here’s your mtg info [Re: We won the account!]"

Some email programs like Gmail create conversations of correspondence based on subject line. If you change the subject line you've broken my trail of the conversation. It can be very, very frustrating if someone does this often.


I'm glad you moderate comments because this isn't a comment it's a request. First, congratulations. I find your writing VERY helpful, particularly when you take the trouble to differentiate between rules in American english and British English (I want British English please). Second, the request. Would you write about the positioning of the word "only" in a sentence, please?


Very interesting post and comments. I've added your link to my Copywriting Resources: http://www.ezinesforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=156

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-Avoid all caps. They set off spam filters and make the subject line difficult to read.

-Avoid using exclamation marks; they also set off spam filters.

-Using questions (even rhetorical questions) tends to provoke curiosity. Example: Birthday cake, anyone?


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Why "Word Wise"?

  • When I started to e-mail out a weekly writing tip to my Chicago colleagues at Edelman in 2002, little did I know how quickly how many people outside my office would start to request it. But word spread, as word is wont to do, and in 2006 the e-mail evolved into this blog. The tips, which are about grammar, usage and style, have a dual purpose – to remind my colleagues in PR of the power of the written word and, more generally, to support and perpetuate clear, concise, creative, honest, lively, stylish, compelling writing everywhere. In 2009 I started to add commentary about and links to stories and other blog posts related to the media, marketing, writing and, sometimes, just interesting stuff. For some reason, I also started Twittering (at SantowDan).