Do they teach email writing in school? They certainly did not when I was in school, perhaps because there was no email back then.  I suspect they still dont’t teach anything about email except maybe how to change the fonts and click the send button.  I’m not even going to get into the sins of the body copy or the attached files, but here are some of the most common time-wasting zero-content ill-conceived and sometimes self-absorbed email subject lines:

Today’s meeting

OK, I’m sure you were really happy to have been invited to that meeting and have all sort of great ideas about what to put on the agenda or how to proceed with the action plan, but consider this: I have more than one meeting today, perhaps a lot more than one.  Plus, once today is over, “today’s meeting” gets even more vague.  And what do you think will happen when I go searching my email for your message about that meeting?

(name of my company)

This needs some explaining.  Imagine that you work for United Encabulator and I work for Weyland-Yutani.  You think we should do business together so you send me an email called “Weyland-Yutani” because of course, for you, that’s what the partnership is about, since you already work for United Encabulator.  I’m thinking that doesn’t make that message stand out very well in my inbox.


Well, now I know it’s an update.  I’m sure it’s the only update in my inbox because it’s about the only project I’m working on, and you are the only person with an update.  Stretch a little, give me a second or third word here, just something to hang my hat on.

(no subject)

Everybody know this one. Some email clients just leave it blank which sometimes means you can’t even click on it. This is like sending an attachment called “doc1.doc” or “untitled.xls” – it’s probably just a simple error, we all do it, but really, shouldn’t you be working just a little bit harder on your emails?  Maybe proofread them just a bit, eh?

And while I’m at it, what’s up with filenames like invoice.pdf and resume.doc? Do you really think you’re the only one sending those kinds of files?

You would think that search would make all this whining null and void, but I think it actually makes it worse.  If I’m looking for a message about some topic or other, I can search on that topic.  If I’m looking for an email with some kind of file, I can search for the filename.  If you use gmail, the search is pretty good, if you use desktop clients or other services, maybe less so.  Either way, getting search results full of crappily subjected messages doesn’t do much to advance the state of the art.

Try this on for size: write subject lines and name files with search in mind.  Try to build in info about the topic, sender and recipient, time/date, etc.  Length within reason is not a constraint.  8.3 filenames are a long long way behind us.  If you’re typing on some phone type device, suck it up and peck out a few more words to make your message matter.  Maybe one day search technology will catch up with our lazy habits.  Until then, work a little harder when you send a message, and the recipients will stand a slightly better chance of understanding it and finding it again later.