Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Subject: Use One

I have a feeling technology will be a frequent subject on this blog.  Technology has made us more interconnected than ever before, but it also creates more opportunities for rudeness and misunderstanding.  Decorum is often overlooked in exchange for a quick contact fix, in a serious need for some etiquette guidance.

For this first technology etiquette post I'll start at the top...of an email that is:
Always include meaningful subject lines on your emails.

Include as much detail in the subject line as you can without becoming overly long.  For example, "lunch today?" is a better subject line than just "lunch?" because it makes it clear that you are not asking about "lunch next Friday?"

The subject line is there for a reason.  It helps someone to identify which messages to read first.  Perhaps more importantly, it helps someone locate a message that was previously read.

The subject line also helps confirm that this email is from a person as opposed to being generated by a virus or spambot.  This is particularly important if you are sending a message to someone who may not immediately recognize your name, but security savvy friends who may know that email addresses can be spoofed may be wary of emails with subjects like "hello" or "that file you wanted" even if they are from a familiar sender.  To help ensure that your email doesn't get dragged to the spam folder include a meaningful subject line.

In threaded email clients, like GMail, the subject line is used to group related messages.  As a result, it is important not only to include a meaningful subject line but also to change the subject line if you are sending a reply that is off topic.  This will help the recipient find your message later without having to remember that you sent that handyman's phone number in the thread about a friend's upcoming birthday party.

In a world of rapidly refilling inboxes, most people will appreciate any assistance they can get in organizing their many incoming email messages.  Including meaningful subject lines is considerate, increases the likelihood that your message will be read, and only takes a few seconds.

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