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SPAM: A Nutrious Food or a Waste of Time?

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Unless the filters on your computer are really good, you're getting at least an occasional SPAM message in your email Inbox. For most of us, we spend more time sorting through and deleting the SPAM than we care to. In fact, my husband told me tonight that of 30 messages he receives each day on our home computer 29 of them are SPAM.

Sometimes SPAM messages are easily identifiable by their subject lines. Sometimes the senders disguise the messages by using what appear to be either business-related subjects or subjects that imply a personal relationship has already been established. Either way, we know it's risky to open these messages--because of their content and because of potential viruses.

We're in the business of doing business. To maintain solid relationships with our clients and peers, writing an accurate and descriptive subject line for each email we send is critical to making our readers' lives easier and their work more efficient. Accurate subject lines not only reflect the content of the message; they also serve as a focus statement so the reader can begin gathering information right away.

I was reminded recently of the importance of the accurate subject line. I'd contacted a company regarding cell phone service and asked that a sales representative contact me. I received an email some days later from a sales rep that had in the subject line just this one word: "hello." Normally I wouldn't open this message. But for some reason I did and found that it was from the person I was eagerly awaiting a response.

All readers, you and me included, approach each email we read with the same question in mind: "What's this about?" We want that question answered immediately. When the writer of the email or document fails to anticipate our question and postpones the answer, most of us become impatient. Our time is precious and each moment valuable. We don't want to waste it searching for the answer to that question. Nor do we want to run the risk of opening an email that will infect our computers.

When we give an accurate subject line, we begin to answer the question "What's this about?" Our readers appreciate knowing how to focus their reading and also feel more confident opening emails presented this way.

Help yourself and your readers by being very descriptive in your email subject lines. This is particularly important if you don't have a previous relationship established with the reader. Even if you do, you have probably already experienced how clever and deceptive SPAMers can be.

For an idea of how you can begin to tailor your subject lines to meet your readers' needs,

Instead of a subject line that just says "Report"

Try: "Report on (title of report) dated (insert date) for (client)"

Instead of a subject line that says "Hello"

Try: (Your company name)? (specific reason for writing)

Instead of: "Following up"

Try: Our meeting at X company on ?

In other words, be as descriptive as possible, making as many connections as you can to previous contact or work you've done with the reader. If the sales person that contacted me had put in the subject line: "your request for XYZ Company phone service upgrades" I'd not have had ANY questions whatsoever about opening his email.

We can't afford to be cavalier, coy, or questionable in our emails. Giving our readers an accurate, descriptive, and informative subject line helps our readers feel more confident in opening our messages, more receptive to our content, and more willing to respond when we answer the question "What's this about."

About the Author:

Dr. Tracy Peterson Turner works with organizations that want to turn their managers into leaders and with leaders who want to get their messages heard. She is an expert in both written and verbal communication and conducts presentations and workshops to help individuals and corporations meet their communication goals.

Visit Tracy on the web at Email her at

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