Email Etiquette Rule #3

Email remains a vital business tool. And, for many reasons, it is one we love to hate. If we all follow a few etiquette rules, email can become much more useful and much less painful.

Here is Email Etiquette Rule #3:

Use one-word tags and short, meaningful summaries on subject lines.

Our email inboxes are so ever-full that we all struggle to get through them. Help your readers see and act on your email with smart subject lines.

At the beginning of the subject line, put a one-word tag that describes the type of request you are making in this email. To help it stand out, write the tag in all caps followed by a colon. Common tags are:

  • ACTION: An email with this tag is asking the reader for a specific action.Help them scan Focus self
    Rewrite and add tags to replies (as needed) and forwarded emails.
  • QUESTION: This email is asking the reader for an answer to a question.
  • READ: This email contains something you would like the reader to read but take no further action on.

Though you might find a need for other tags in your company, keep the set of different tags small for consistency and clarity.

After the tag, include a very brief but meaningful summary of the email. We can usually do this with 3 to 5 words selected to help your reader.

Examples of poor subject line summaries are, “Sales”, “Sales Meeting”, and “4th quarter sales meeting covering forecasts, staffing, and and customer service initiatives.” The first two are too short and generic. The last one is too long and detailed. But “4th quarter sales meeting agenda” gives just enough insight into the topic of the email to help your readers notice and handle it.

Because tags and summaries are so helpful, let’s use them to rewrite the subject lines on replies (as needed) and on forwarded emails.

Smart subject lines make our emails easier for our readers to process.  They also help us keep the body of the email clean and focused. More on that in the next Email Etiquette Rule.


In your corner,


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