E-Mail Strategies: Attachments, Subject Lines

People: It's 2009. E-mail is not a new phenomenon. As a planet, we've been at it for a couple decades now. We even have etiquette guides on the subject (like "E-Mail Etiquette: Tips for Home and Work" and "E-Mail Etiquette" for example). And yet some otherwise-very-intelligent-I'm-sure folks still haven't mastered the basics. Like writing an effective subject line.

For example, I recently received an e-mail with this subject: "From Joe User." (Names have been changed to protect the, er, misguided.)

Um, Joe? I know it's from you. It says so right there in the From field. What I don't know is what your e-mail is about or why I should read it.

Another message came with the subject, "HASSLE." Again, nothing too enlightening there. Do you need help solving a hassle or are you writing to hassle me? I've got plenty of the latter already, thanks.

I think the worst offenders are folks who can't be bothered to write a subject line at all. That's like getting a knock at the door, looking through the peephole, and seeing no one on the other side. Guess I don't need to open it!

Now, it's my job to read your mail, and I do so, happily. (Alas, I can't answer all of it, but I do try to answer questions here whenever I can.) But if you're hoping for the best possible response from any e-mail you send, it's important to take care with your subject line.

In other words, make it short but informative. If you're writing to Hassle-Free PC, for instance, give a quick description of your problem. A great example: "Computer not recognizing DVD/CD-ROM drives."

Remember, the subject line of your e-mail is the first thing the recipient sees. It should be a tiny summary of what's in the body of the e-mail. Anything else and your message might get overlooked, passed over, or just plain ignored.

Three Ways to Avoid Forgotten Attachments

Because I'm perfect in every way, I've never, ever forgotten to attach a file to an e-mail. But I've been on the receiving end, and nothing beats the feeling of superiority that comes from composing this reply: "You forgot the attachment, doofus!"

To avoid e-mail smackdowns like that, consider installing a plug-in that alerts you to forgotten attachments (the digital equivalent of showing up at someone's door without any pants).

These tools scan your outbound messages for keywords like "file," "attached," and "attachment." If they detect such a word but there's nothing attached, you'll get an alert--thus allowing you to attach the intended file and avoid future embarrassment.

Outlook 2007 users can grab the Missing Attachment PowerToy, or the much more robust Forgotten Attachment Detector (which supports custom keywords and can even warn you about blank subject lines).

If you're using an earlier version of Outlook, try Attached4Sure--it supports all versions dating back to 2002.

Best news of all? Every single plug-in I've mentioned is free.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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