Subject Line as an Effective KiSS Tool

Ivanna Tabachuk
Jan 12 · 5 min read

“Following up”, “Question”, “Information”, “Update” — my Inbox is jam-packed with emails, titled in this manner. I believe, yours as well.

Subject line as a tool is usually underused.

A subject is a significant element of the email, although often undervalued and underused. Well, it shouldn’t be.

As it is both the first impression (next to the name and email address, the subject line is the first thing the reader sees scanning through the Inbox) and the decision trigger whether to open/read an email or not, to put off or delete immediately (statistically 64% of busy people open an email because of the subject line).

It also can help you find a necessary email later. How many times have you searched your inbox for an email that you know exists, yet doesn’t seem to be anywhere? And then, just at that stage when you’re asking your computer, “Am I going crazy or are you stupid?” — you find it! And its subject line is something wildly vague like, “Hi,” or “New Project,” or “information.” I personally hate when I need to find last year interview results of some candidate and the search shows me 200 emails with the subject line “Interview results”. The same is with “Project update”.

So the email subject has a lot of functions. But the best out of all is that it is an effective, operational, workplace tool for composing KISS emails, as it helps to shorten your message, be clear and avoid junk words and phrases.

But how to write the subject line to immediately engage your reader, have your email open and shorten your message at the same time?

So here are the key features of KISS subject lines.

1. Just do it. First of all, don’t skip it. Only think how irritated people can get because they need to open your no-subject email to find out what is in it or whether it is an urgent task.

P.S. “?????!!!!!!!!!????!!!:); Р” — is not a considered to be the subject😋.

2. SMART it. It can be SMARTed. Almost as a goal. According to Shirley Taylor, the author of Model Business Letters Emails and Other Business Documents,

SMART Subject Line means Specific, Meaningful, Appropriate, Relevant and Thoughtful. Actually, it is a goal — an effective subject line always answers a question, what is exactly in the email (what was the purpose of writing that email).

3. Keep it short and focused, and sweet. Get right to the point and do not blab too much, as you’ve got only 50 characters (some sources highly recommend stay within 30–40).

4. Keyword it. A subject line should contain keywords (most email-relevant should go first) so it would be easy to filter or find your email later if needed.

PRO TIP: my favourite tip for composing sufficient KISS subjects is […]. Context-based, you might generate subjects starting with [Action Required]…, [Reminder]…, [Urgent]…, [FYI]…, [Follow-up]…, [Your Input Required]….

For example,

  • [Need Your Review] Adjustments to the program brochure.
  • [Action required] reply by Friday.

And yes, in the subject line in […] you may even use “forbidden” words like [Reminder]…, [Urgent]…, [FYI]…. Cool right?

So, I guess it is crystal clear now that “Following up”, “Question”, “Information”, “Update” fail to meet all the above requirements. Except perhaps for the first one :) (at least it is not empty — better than nothing😀)!

For example, they can turn into:

  • Following up — [Follow-up] deadline for Phase 1/Marketing Manager interview follow-up
  • Question — Question about the upcoming leadership program
  • Information — Change of company picnic location
  • Update — Update on company payroll procedure-2020

The subject line can even contain the whole message!

One more cool subject line “trick”, also underused (your loss) that the subject can contain the whole message.

It is an excellent feature for those employees whose companies do not allow instant messaging.

For example,

  • See you tomorrow at 8:00 am at Cups and Cake near the office.
  • Confirming our meeting at 10:00 tomorrow.
  • Please call me when you are free.

ProTIP: Just remember to add EOM (EndOfMessage) in the end. It acts as an indicator for the reader that there is no need to open the email as it is empty and the entire message is in the subject. Effectiveness and time-saving, as well as an investment in ROR (ReturnOnRelationship).

Most frequently “Subject line as an email” is used for:

  1. Confirmations — Confirmation of a meeting at 10:00 tomorrow.
  2. Requests/inquiries
    - May I borrow your office @ 2 pm today?
    - Please call me when you are free.
    - Employee Survey: Please take by
    EOD
  3. Reminders/Followups
    - [Need our approval] Contract due COB.
  4. Invitations
    - Coffee, Friday at 9?/Free to catch up over coffee next week?

Let’s practice?

What will be the best subject for the email and why?:

Hi Julie,

big thanks for your work. I carefully examined the mockup, and have several concerns. When can we discuss them?

Possible answers:

  1. Thanks for the mockup
  2. Nuances in the mockup
  3. Mockup discussion

And one more thing: why a subject line is one of the most effective KISS tools?

Because the right subject helps

  • Avoid/delete/minimize “junk” words and phrases (or even sentences), writing shorter, simpler and clearer, without the fluff and blah-blah-blah
  • Elegantly word “ tricky” moments.

How?

1. Even knowing that it’s always better to cut it to chase, many people feel uncomfortable about the point-blank approach and start from afar, or simply do not know how to start the message differently and begin with “I am writing to…”, “Just a quick reminder…”, “Just checking in…”, “I have a question…”. But these unnecessary emails introduction can be taken to the subject line in […]. For example. [Reminder]… or [Checking in]… or [Question].

The same applies to [Status update]…, [Next steps]…, [Meeting follow-up]….

For example, instead of starting your email with, “Here is the weekly status update on Х’, include “Status update on Х" in the subject line, and start your email with the core things:

John,

The phase 2 started a bit later than we planned due to…

Space-saving, wouldn’t you agree?

2. If your email should have an attached something, then instead of typing the corny “Please find attached” or even a bit better alternatives, use the attachment title as the email subject.

For example,

SL: Weekly progress report

Hey [Name],

Nearly doubled my efforts on crafting texts. But it is still difficult to predict if we meet the deadline. Plan to involve a freelance-copywriter next week.

Let me know if you have any questions before our call tomorrow.

[Your Name]

3. If you are afraid to sound too pushy, bossy or impolite, when writing about urgent tasks or deadlines, include all “awkward” moments in the subject line. For instance, [Due tomorrow]…/[Today]…/[Timely Request] Need your approval for…

4. Use email subject as a context. Instead of starting off your email with “We met at the sales conference last Monday”, title it “Followup after the sales conference last Monday”.️ The same when you email under someone’s advice, write in the subject “Referred by Jane Brown for a technical writer position” and make sure you don’t repeat yourself in the body.

5. Instead of an introduction, for example, when you apply for a job or follow up on interview results:

  • Human resources assistant application — John Smith.
  • John Smith following up on sales position.

6. About “subject line as an email” I’ve already mentioned!

Wish you to get emails only with effective and SMART subject lines! 🤛

This article in Ukrainian on uppr.com.ua

Ivanna Tabachuk

Written by

Communication and career coach, HR consultant, passionate emailer and verbalist at UPPR.com.ua and https://t.me/emailingskills

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