The very worst subject lines

If you're going to be shooting out email messages as part of your job, you really ought to think about your recipients' reactions. Here are some of the least reader-friendly subject lines and why they likely won't work.

Much of the email that I delete without opening gets ditched because of its very annoying or ridiculously inane subject lines. Here are my top 12, best to worst.

12) Will you be attending today's meeting?

OK, so maybe, just maybe, I didn't notice the email you sent two weeks ago, one week ago, five days ago, and yesterday. But, more likely, I'm ignoring your repeated attempts to get an hour of my time because I'm just not interested. I'm a busy Unix admin/security specialist/writer/teacher/web admin and I don't like to clutter my weekly calendar with meetings unless they pertain to something that's a hot part of my to do list.

11) Can we meet?

I guess I should be flattered, but I'm not. I've received email from a lot of people who sound like they desperately need a friend, but why me? You just have a feeling that we'd be best friends? Or did you send that message out to a thousand people just to see how many goodhearted or maybe overly trusting people you could find?

10) Last chance to ...

In my way of looking at things, last chances are almost always a bad thing. Last chance to buy something at a discount, last chance to contribute before a big deadline, last chance to enter a drawing ... And, whenever one of those last chances gets followed soon after with a "Deadline extended!" subject line, I'm left wondering about the fluidity of deadlines. Anything to put pressure on your email recipients? I don't think so.

9) Must read!

Really? And just why must I read your all important email? Most of these turn out to be single line messages trying to coax me to go to some URL that is likely to leave me with a nice malware infection. The contents of these messages is generally something like "This is really cool", "You've got to see this", or just "Click on this link!" and the link will be something like http://bignews.yuadsh.com" and from an address like Jane Doe (gzabotiu@razw.org)". Uhuh, sure, Jane.

8) Win a free ...

Offers to win free stuff are fairly common. I get several a week. But even those that sound legit are put-offs. "The first 50 people to click on this link will win a $50 iTunes card". Even if I believe the offer is legit, I always figure a thousand or more people have read and responded to the email before it even landed in my inbox. So, what's the point?

7) [Some big shot] wants to meet you

If President Obama or Robert Redford or Brad "I want to check you for ticks" Paisley wants to meet me, all they have to do is ask. I don't need to contribute $25 or more and enter a drawing. I'll just dress up and show up for them. No questions asked. Please, guys, email me right now.

6) ALL CAPS

ANYTHING TYPED IN ALL CAPS ANNOYS ME SO MUCH THAT I WON'T BOTHER READING IT. UNLESS IT'S FROM MY BROTHER WHO (UNFORTUNATELY) DOES THIS, IT'S JUST NOT WORTH WHAT IT DOES TO MY NERVOUS SYSTEM. See what I mean? I do not take kindly to anything other than acronyms and company short names (like "TCS"!) typed in all caps.

5) Misspellings

I do sometimes inform people who send me email that some subject line of theirs contained a glaring typo, but I am unlikely to respond in any other way. I just feel sorry for you, buddy, if you can't check the spelling of your subject line or your company name. How pressured, sloppy, or careless can you be? And, if you can't type your subject line without a typo, should I trust you to work on my sensitive applications or service my servers? I think not.

4) You need this

Really? And how is it that you know me so well that you know what I need? It's not going to take me more than a few milliseconds to hit the delete button on this one. No, I don't. I really don't.

3) Your email won!

Right. So now you're so anxious to give out prizes that you're going to be picking email addresses out of the blue sky and, to claim the prize, you just want my full name, birth date, home address, phone number, mother's maiden name ... No, I don't think I'm falling for this one.

2) Hey

Just one word. "Hey" or, if you're not quite feeling like you're number one super cool, maybe "Hi" or "Hello". No, I don't think "Hey" is an appealing subject line and the lack of effort that you've just displayed is not going to coax me into opening your message.

1) Did you get my last email?

Gee, and how am I supposed to know? Was it the only email you ever sent? You may have the message that you think you sent very clear in your mind, but I don't. Maybe you should try putting a little more context into the subject line. How about "Did you get the email that I sent about tomorrow's happy hour?" or "Did you receive the contract?" or even "Did my explanation answer your questions?". With a subject line like one of those, I might actually know what you're referring to. I might be able to answer without having to spend twenty minutes going through my email to see if I maybe missed something important. I may seem awfully fussy but I'm just busy like most everyone else. If your subject line doesn't give me a good idea what the content of your message is about and sound legitimate, I just don't want to waste my time on it.

Read more of Sandra Henry-Stocker's Unix as a Second Language blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld, Twitter and Facebook.

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