He notes that most people use the subject line to describe the content of the email. But if people used the subject line to summarize the content instead, communication would be much smarter and more efficient. For example:
Bad subject line: Deadline discussion
Good subject line: We have to get the product out by 15 October
Bad subject line: Mail problem
Good subject line: Mail.app hangs on IMAP retrieval.
A subject line with a summary rather than a description tells the reader the point of the email before it is even opened. Simple. Smart.
His wider point about the culture of email is insightful too. He points out that in the olden days the burden of communication lay with the sender, as it took longer to type, envelope, stamp and send a letter than it did to read one. Now, senders quickly shoot off any old thing, which often takes longer to read than to write. The burden of communication has shifted to the recipient. Interesting.
You can read the whole article online on the Harvard Business School website.
- Don’t touch that subject line!
- Editing the subject line in received emails
- Email: Keeping it simple
- Exploding email
- Bill Gates’ paperless office
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