In a Better Business Writing class yesterday, an attendee named John made an important point about email subject lines. John said it bothers him when people change the subject in their reply to his email. The reason is that, with a different subject, he can’t search for the email using the same search term.
I agree with John.
Striving to be more efficient, people have begun updating subject lines to reflect a new stage of the communication.
Sample situation: When I teach a business writing course, I send participants an email request for prework. This is a sample subject line:
Prework for June 23 Writing Tune-Up: Action Requested by June 17
If people reply using the same subject, I can easily search for replies using “June 23” or “June 17” as a search term. Then I can drag the messages into a folder. But if someone changes the subject to “Prework Attached,” I can’t find the email easily in a search.
It’s fine if someone simply adds a word or a phrase to the end of an email subject, like this:
Prework for June 23 Writing Tune-Up: Action Requested by June 17–ATTACHED
If they just add a word, I will still be able to find the message by a subject-line search.
Of course, sometimes changing the subject makes sense. For example, when:
- The person who emailed you had no subject
- The original subject line no longer applies
- You are writing about a completely new topic
But unless you have a good reason for doing so, don’t change the subject!
Do you like John’s idea? What do you want to share about email subject lines? I welcome your comments.