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What's in Your Subject Line?

By Patricia Fry

Do you often feel rejected because your e-mail messages are ignored? Do you envision a black hole where your outgoing e-mail is swallowed up, never to be read by human eyes? Well, that's exactly what happens to thousands of e-mail messages each year. And it's mainly because of what you put -- or neglect to put -- in the subject line.

What's the big deal about the subject line? Right up there with the "to" and the "from," the subject line is the most important aspect of any e-mail. Why? This is what causes the recipient to open it or discard it. Think about how you determine which e-mail messages to open and which to delete.

You will open e-mail with information or words that are familiar to you or that relate to someone you know or something you're involved in. Here at SPAWN, if "SPAWN" is in the subject line, we will probably open the e-mail. If the subject line reads, "I'm confused," "Waiting to hear from you," "Need information" or another generic phrase, and the return address is not familiar, we may delete that e-mail message.

Folks, think before you click "send." If you want your e-mail to be read and, especially if you want a response, pay attention to what is in your subject line. Maybe you lost your password to the SPAWN member area. Instead of typing, "password," or "I need help," type, "SPAWN member lost password," or simply, "SPAWN password." Rather than saying, "Here it is," type "SPAWN catalog revision." Instead of writing "Question," say, "Question from SPAWN member." Avoid using terms that you see in your spam e-mail, such as, "proposal for you," "you must see this" and so forth.

It is also important to keep your subject line message brief. Most e-mail software displays only about 61 characters in the subject line for each e-mail in the list of e-mails available. Most of us weed out the junk by glancing at the subject line and the sender for each e-mail in the list.

If you try to say too much in the subject line, you could actually confuse or mislead the recipient. Here's an example of a subject line message that could cause the recipient to delete the e-mail before reading it:

"STANA: Tourism Association of North America Research and Marketing Conference May 22-25 in Philadelphia."

The recipient, in most cases, will see only this much of the message:

"STANA: Tourism Association of North America Research & Marketing"

If you want to use an oversized message in the subject line, be sure that the "payload" of the subject (or the most important part) is within the first 61 characters. Here's how this message should have been presented:

"STANA Conference May 22-25 in Philadelphia, Tourism Association of North America Research and Marketing."

Likewise, I urge members to pay closer attention to the e-mail they delete. Do not delete e-mail simply because it lands in your bulk/spam e-mail box or just because it has an unfamiliar e-mail address. You can reach us here at SPAWN via, and However, we may respond to you using e-mail addresses that do not look familiar to your e-mail program. These messages will probably go into your bulk/spam e-mail box.

Look at the name. Read the subject line. Is it familiar? Does it say SPAWN? SPAWNews? LA Times Book Festival? SPAWN Catalog of Member's Books? Does it refer to the topic you wrote to us about? Check closely before deleting, because it may just be the response you are waiting for.

We've all inadvertently deleted legitimate e-mail, but recipients will be much less likely to delete the e-mail they receive from us if we make sure to have an appropriate message in the subject line. And if we take a little more time reviewing the messages in our e-mail and spam mail boxes, we will receive the information we have requested and the messages we wish to receive.



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