Email Subject Lines (PDF)

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in the workplace
by Summer Turner

If you saw these email subject lines in your
spam folder, and you didn’t know the person,
would you open the emails?

Me neither. This happened to me over a period of a few
weeks from someone using a cutesy email address that gave
no clue as to whom it could be. At first, I thought, “Typical
spam,” and deleted it. The second time, I thought, “Gosh, this
person is targeting me!” Delete. The third time, I thought,
“This maniac is stalking me! Does he know where I live??
Should I call the police?”
Shortly after the third email showed up in my spam folder,
I got a phone call from a guy named Ed in California. He
said, “Dave Smith recommended you as editor for my book
project.” Then he added, “Didn’t you get any of my emails?
I’ve been trying to reach you for weeks!”

Ed’s choice of subject lines cost him weeks of wasted time
– time when I could have been helping him with his book,
which to him was “urgent.”
Ed made a mistake that many of us make with our emails.
He was thinking only of his need and was writing from his
point of view. For him, it was “important and urgent” that I
read his emails. The only message I got was that some maniac
desperately wanted me to open his probably malevolent
emails. He failed to ask the most important question when
it comes to writing email subject lines:
“What does the recipient need to read in order to
feel comfortable opening the email?”
These days, we’re all careful about opening emails from
unknown sources, aren’t we? Especially emails sitting in our
spam folder. So we have to make an extra effort to get the
recipient to feel confident about opening our emails.
Ed could have easily accomplished this. How? By writing in
his subject line what he told me when he finally telephoned
me: “Dave Smith recommended you as editor for my book
project.” As the recipient, even though the email was lurking
in my spam folder, I would have thought, “This means
income for me, and I know Dave Smith ...” I would open
that email! Wouldn’t you?

“No, Ed, I’m sorry, I didn’t!” Then I had a brain wave.
“Um, Ed, what’s your email address?” The Stalker!
In Your Workplace
Put yourself in your recipients’ shoes when you craft your
subject lines. Think about what they need to read in order
to say, “I feel confident about opening this email” or “It’s
in my interest to read this email.”

Summer Turner is the owner of Business
Writing Breakthrough LLC, “A full-service
consultant when workplace writing
excellence is a must!” Turner can be
reached at

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