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#408: Write Email Subject Lines That Get Attention

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, October 06, 2010
I get it that people receive a lot of emails and can't always answer them right away, but what's the difference between an email that gets opened right away and one that is saved for later attention?

Assuming the recipient is in an email reading mood, there are probably three things that most determine what gets opened right away:
  1. The return address. Let's face it, we are more likely to act on emails from family and friends than ones from a complete stranger. Furthermore, the "display as” text in the return address (over which you have some control) can send your email to the junk folder (by an automated process) or the deleted folder (by the recipient). If your "Display As" return address text includes provocative words (e.g., "sales," "offer," or "free"), you might consider whether this is the reason your emails are not being opened.
  2. The subject line. Usually the second thing a recipient looks for, but sometimes the first. Make it crystal clear what you want from the reader. Also, consider writing the subject line first, before the body of the email, when you are not deep into the details of your offer or request. Ask yourself what you want the reader to think, feel or do after reading and put that in less than 50 characters. If you limit yourself to this length, this can make your emails themselves crisper (less time to write and less time to read - everyone wins).
  3. Get to the point - quickly. Many people use email readers that have a reading pane that show a few lines of body text. If the reason why I should be interested is not clear, and I have other things on my mind, your email is going into the "later" pile, which may mean the "never" pile.
Tip: If you have gotten this far, don't blow it by making the reader think they didn't receive your full attention when you wrote it. Impersonal and oddly formatted emails send subtle clues that the reader's time was not being respected. Finally, if the body is too long, you risk a "later" decision that may never be fulfilled. It is often better to use a short email and attach the longer content, which increases the chances that your core message will be received.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication 

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