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A Disconnect in Email Subjects

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a fundraiser for Haitian relief efforts. The day after the successful event, I got a congratulatory email from the person who led our efforts. It came to all of us on the planning committee.

The subject was "I Am Bringing Signs." The first sentence was "What a rewarding event and experience last night to benefit the people of Haiti."

Do you recognize what went wrong?

I had sent a message to committee members on Saturday afternoon, reminding them that I was bringing welcome signs that evening. On Sunday, rather than starting a new thread, our committee leader replied to my message to communicate with everyone.

So an email whose subject should have been the uplifting "What a Rewarding Event" was introduced with the nonsensical "I Am Bringing Signs."

You know why he replied rather than starting a new thread: It was simpler than pasting our email addresses into a new message. But here are the easy steps our leader might have taken:

1. Click Reply All.
2. Change the subject.
3. Delete the earlier thread.
4. Type his new message.

In my reply on Sunday, I quietly changed the subject to "What a Rewarding Event." I did not want my banal "I Am Bringing Signs" to detract from the euphoria we felt about the money raised for Haiti.

Committee members are now emailing back and forth on new topics, all with the subject "What a Rewarding Event." At least it has a positive tone, even if it doesn't fit the new messages.

Do you see disconnects in email subjects?

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “A Disconnect in Email Subjects”

  • Well I have not seen any kind of disconnects in email subjects but after eading your post I can say that perhaps it was quite hard for you to handle this.I want to say you that you are a lucky one that you were a part in a fundraiser for Haitian relief efforts.

  • I have experienced exactly what you wrote about in today’s column. My office e-mail provider allows me to “personalize” the subject box on e-mail messages received from others. This is helpful when perusing my in box or folders for an e-mail I’ve already read but may need to refer back to. This feature is also effective when responding to a message that has a less than informative subject line. Thanks for your informative and helpful column.

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