Spotlight: You Can Tell a Lot From an Email Subject Line
If you use all caps, you're probably not Danish or Chinese
The Guardian's Leslie Plommer spends a lot of time reading the emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Being the "corrections and clarifications editor" ahs given her a unique insight into "the tiny world of the subject field." When you fill out the subject line of emails, do you take a utilitarian approach, such as "Meeting Tomorrow"? Or a more humorous or poetic one? Plommer may be directing her observations at Guardian readers, but there's something for everyone to chew on here.
ON UNHELPFUL, UNSPECIFIC SUBJECT LINES
You can tell a lot from subject fields, or you can tell a little. Let me rephrase that: quite often, I can tell pretty close to nothing ... Subject field? "Correction". Many more emails arrive, joining those bedded down cosily in the overnight queue, subject fields: "Error", or equally informatively, "Article."
THE PERFECT SUBJECT LINE, FOR HER
Headline, date and page number of the story being queried. The byline, too, if possible. Or simply the url – in plain English, the link to our guardian.co.uk web page containing the story – pasted into the subject field. Compliments to engineers and sports readers, by the way, two species who grab a subject field and put it to work.
THE PLACE FOR CREATIVITY
Imagery: practicality does not rule out imagery in subject lines. Take one recent incoming subject field, "Invention of incandescent light". This tells me somewhere in the paper we've probably claimed that Thomas Edison, rather than our own Joseph Swan, invented the lightbulb. The words convey practical information, though a page number or url would have been nice too, but incandescence, your everyday subject field can never get enough of that.
ON PEOPLE (INCLUDING CANADIANS) WHO WRITE IN CAPITAL LETTERS*
At the sight of these in a subject field I am braced to be addressed in a VERY ASSERTIVE VOICE (usually from the United Kingdom, or its most vociferous offspring, the United States, with--who would have thought it--a small contingent of capitalised Canadians. Never, in my experience, do the likes of Danes, French, Chinese go in for this; with the last group, the exclamation mark is perhaps more favoured).
*We are aware of the irony. The Atlantic Wire does, after all, employ citizens of the UK's "most vociferous offspring."