E-Mail Etiquette: Specifics of a subject line

by epi on October 2, 2012

Q: My question pertains to the subject line of an e-mail message.  I want to send my former manager an e-mail asking him for a recommendation letter for work and scholarships.  Should I title the e-mail “Letter of Recommendation,” or “Hello Mr. X, I would like your assistance,” or even, “This is Y, I was wondering if you could help me”?  The first seems too forward, while the second seems rather insecure and needy, as does the last.

A: The subject line is an opportunity to give the recipient a brief understanding of your e-mail’s content.  A few words will suffice, such as “Request for a Letter of Recommendation.”  The body of the message would begin, “Dear Mr. Smith, I am writing to ask if you would be so kind as to…etc.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanna October 2, 2012 at 8:40 am

My job requires a great deal of email communication, so as a courtesy, I like to email people with something in the subject line they can quickly identify the message with afterward, i.e. “John Smith – account problem” or “Wednesday meeting agenda.” Yes, I can later do an inbox search for keywords, but in my humble opinion it’s much easier if you can just scan through recent messages.

Unfortunately, most people don’t do the same for me. I can’t tell you how many messages I get with subject lines like “hi!” or even better, totally blank.

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Jody October 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Definitely put something in the subject line — EPI’s suggestion of “Request for a Letter of Recommendation” is excellent. That lets the receipient know at a glance what you’re message is about. Messages in my inbox with blank subject lines tend to go to the bottom of the pile.

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