How to Enhance E-Mail Response - Part 4 How to Construct Meaningful Subject Line

E-mails fail to reach recipients for many reasons, some of which may be completely out of your control. But, there are quite a few which you can easily control by adopting simple steps. One such step is to make sure your e-mail does not look like spam or virus carrier. We discuss here what makes an e-mail suspect and how to avoid it in your e-mail communication.

Continuing from previous issue on how Spam Filters work - we discuss here reasons why a legitimate e-mail may get blocked by spam filter or the recipient may destroy without reading - suspecting it to be spam or virus !

Wording of Subject - Some Do's and Don'ts

Spam Filters take special care to analyze subject as it is often the easiest part to crack. E-mail users, who receive large number of e-mails, often check e-mails at server and download these only after deleting suspect looking e-mails. A quick glance at subject of an e-mail is often considered enough to decide on its future. That's how important the subject line of your e-mail is !

Common Mistakes in Subject Construction

  • No Subject: Always use a subject - e-mails with no subject often get blocked by spam filters
  • Vague Subject: N/A is not a legitimate subject - please be more imaginative
  • Single Word: Never use single word as subject. Most spammers and virus-carrying e-mails use single word as subject (e.g. Information, Important, Urgent, Password, Hi, Hello etc.)
  • Suspicious Subject: like 'I need your help', 'My Plight' 'DEAR SIR' etc. Scamsters often use such subject.
  • Offending Subject: e.g. 'Reply Required', 'Respond ASAP' Do not insult or offend recipient by deliberate or unintentional use of such words. Your mail may end up in trash can.
  • Virus like Subject : e.g. Re: Your Document, Very Urgent, Re: Failure etc. E-mails with such subject and file attachment invariably carry virus.

How to Construct a Meaningful Subject ?

Purpose of subject is to inform the recipient about content of e-mail, help him/her save time. An ideal subject should be the one that is able to summarize content of e-mail in one short sentence.

Obviously - the key issue here is specificity. Your subject should be specific enough to tell the recipient what the e-mail is all about.

Additionally, many email messages go back and forth several times over, so it's important to accurately describe what the reader will find inside and remind him/her of the on-going issue.

Considering the level of spam and anti-spam software in place today, you can't afford to risk your message not being delivered because of a generic or poorly worded subject line. A subject line such as, 'What's Up ?' or 'How do you feel' doesn't tell the recipient much.

On the other hand 'Need CIF Value of Short Grain Rice - Re: your quotation #572-04' is far more specific.

However, do not overdo the specific act as long subject line defeats its very purpose. Remember, a legitimate message coming from your plant in Hong Kong advising you that "they've still had no luck increasing the prototype by 3 inches" is unlikely to ever make it past today's spam filters !

Some Other Desirable Features

  • Subject line should not be too long - preferably less than 76 characters
  • Never use all Capitals
  • Use unique keyword or phrase for quick identification of sender or issue (e.g. Attn: Mr. Ashok Bajaj, Ref: Product Catalog #23873 Brass Ashtray etc.)

Happy and Productive Surfing

Dr. Amit K Chatterjee

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Source: FAIDA - Newsletter on Business Opportunties from India and Abroad Vol: 5, Issue 7 ; September 23' 2004

Author : Dr. Amit K. Chatterjee
(Amit worked in blue-chip Indian and MNCs for 15 years in various capacities like Research and Information Analysis, Market Development, MIS, R&D Information Systems etc. before starting his e-commerce venture in 1997. The views expressed in this columns are of his own. He may be reached at )

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