Email: Say It In The Subject – and take part on Friday 15th April!


I’d like you to take a look at a section of my email inbox showing incoming email subjects:



Taking a look at the subject list above –  what are these emails about? Which ones allow me to get a good understanding of the content without spending time opening them – especially when I get more that 200 emails to my work email address a day and have to prioritise opening so that it doesn’t become a full time occupation?
Looking at the list above, I’d say that I have some fairly good info received about:
  • The SharePoint workshop (what it’s about, date and location),
  • The IT Clinic happening 31st March (though what is an “IT Clinic” without reading the email?).
  • There’s some sort of Mobile Business Briefing on 29 March (but is it general or specific?).

The rest is a mystery. So do I spend time opening them to get the info, or ignore them?
  • “Out at Tesco” must be about the Tesco staff gay group but “what” about it?
  • What is the “API question”?
  • “Call for entries” for what?

So…
I’m going to (try and) launch a new movement called “Email: Say It In The Subject!“. This is where you always say the essential information in the subject of your email. 
But it’s more than that: If you are writing an informal email – say to a colleague or friend – why not say the entire message in the subject?

Examples:

  • Need that R&D Q4 review report by 11am for meeting with Chris. Ready by 10?
  • Happy to meet about XYZ proposal. Thursday at 2pm free for me. You?
  • IT Clinic – get your Tesco laptop super healthy – see us Thu 31st March in Atrium!
By reading those email subjects on incoming emails it would be easy for me to scan the subject list and quickly receive all the essential info I need, without opening the messages.
Of course some messages will be easier to say in the subject than others, but even then getting the essential info into the subject is better than not trying, as you can see from the examples in my real inbox this morning.
Try replacing “R&D Q4 Report” with “R&D Q4 Report – 4 new projects and great feedback from Mike M on ABC prototype” which would make people want to open the message to learn more.
Even more importantly, those receiving this report by email but can’t give it a high priority would still get some essential elements of the report’s content to take away.
If you are dealing with suppliers, customers, and the boss’s-boss’s-boss then a more formal approach is required, but still saying it in the subject will give them greater insight into the content.
In summary, saying it in the subject of an email:
  • Conveys information quickly.
  • Allows recipients to receive this information without opening your message. 
  • Recipients prioritising email messages to open still always get the info in your message.
  • You get your message across just by appearing in their list of emails!
  • Reduces bandwidth and spam if adopted everywhere (thanks @inksmithy!)
I accept this is going to be easier if you are experienced in shoe-horning interesting comments into the 140-character limit of Twitter. Indeed using that social networking tool got me into “saying it in the subject” in the first place. The number of times I have written in the body of the message, “subject says it all!” has been quite frequent in the last three months. Saying it in the subject is an even greater challenge since you only have 70-80 characters maximum. Now that’s great Twitter training in itself!

So here in Tesco.com R&D we’re going to try an experiment:
On one day – Friday 15th April – we’re going to try and persuade colleagues in Tesco.com (and the wider Tesco organisation if people are willing), to write their emails by “saying it in the subject” – and to expect incoming emails to say it in the subject from their colleagues – just to see if we can get this to work and prove the three benefits listed above, as well as uncover any concerns.
You are welcome to join in! If your organisation / department / just your fellow team members are willing to give it ago on Friday 15th April then fantastic. I’ll get some poster content ready for you to download, print out and stick on the wall in your place of work (or email for that matter).  Stay tuned to this blog for download details over the next couple of days.
If there are any journalists or bloggers reading this who would like help get the message out, that would be fantastic and great fun if you think it’s a good idea – it would be awesome if the entire nation tried this for a day.
It would be great to find out who is taking part so drop me an email or write a comment below if you would like to do it. Tell me what you think, including any concerns.
Come on – let’s make emails quick to read (and quick to write) by taking part in the experiment on Friday 15th April – Email: Say It In The Subject Day!

UPDATE: I have had some feedback by one T4T blog reader who finds that subject-only messages can feel insulting – as “no effort taken”. That’s why I’ve set it to a ‘day’ when people should expect such messages and won’t be insulted. It would feel more like receiving instant messages from Live Messenger or an SMS message.

If readers perceive the benefit of extracting info and saving time over the ‘insult’ of brevity, then I think we’re getting somewhere.

Again it’s about protocol – nothing important should be sent subject-only.