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Write Descriptive Subjects

When you receive messages from a mailing list, the first thing you see is the subject line. Which of these subject lines would you rather see on a mailing list devoted to, say, house cats?

  • (no subject)
  • Introducing new cat into household

Unless your telepathic powers are better than mine, the first subject line tells you nothing. So, the first rule of subject lines is actually to include a subject in every message you send. This may seem obvious, but then it is surprising just how many people do not do this.

Consider the following two subjects now:

  • My Cat
  • Wad of Paper as Inexpensive Cat Toy

My telepathic skills have yet to improve any, I am sorry to say; I would suspect that yours have not either. So, the second rule of subject lines is to make them descriptive.

Always include an appropriate subject in your posts. Do not use blank subjects or digest subjects. When replying to a single post, the automatic "RE:" subject is fine. When replying to a digest, however, you must change the subject to indicate the specific post in the digest you are reply to. If you are changing the focus of the post, it is good etiquette to change the subject accordingly. For example, if the original post subject is "Bolton Filibuster", and your reply discusses historical examples of filibustering, then change the subject to something like "Historical Filibustering (was: Bolton Filibuster)".

On the other side are people who change the subject lines on every message they send. That is equally problematic, since it prevents list members from reading (or sorting) messages that are related by a shared subject line.

Subjects are key to members for organizing and managing their incoming email. Inappropriate subjects can be misleading and frustrating, while applicable subject lines allow readers to search their subject lists to find messages interesting to them without having to read all messages.

If you create descriptive subjects, maintain the correct subjects if you are a digest reader, and change subjects only when appropriate, you will be well on your way to being admired as a paragon of list etiquette.

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