We aren’t all as good at managing our inbox as we would like to be. Thankfully email software is making it easier to sift through the sea of messages when you’re looking for what you need this second.
But now and then emails can slip through the cracks. Emails that you just know are tucked away in there, but you just can’t think of the best words to use when you search for them. As an email sender, how can you make it easier for your email to be found when a disorganised recipient (read most recipients) try to find your message? It’s all about judicious use of keywords.
Many email users have become lazy when it comes to writing subject headers to their messages. But in the end, there are two main ways a receiver is going to recognise your message when they try to reference back to it in future. Either by your name or email address, and by searching based on subject headers. Whatever the choice – even by full message search – your subject header will be the primary point of reference when looking for the result they need.
With this in mind, it makes a lot of sense to spend more than a few seconds composing your subject header for both clarity and archival usefulness. Not every message demands such effort, but where a message may contain useful details that at any time may be helpful as a point of reference, flagging content, context, client or project name, or any other word that helps tag the message will make a very large difference long term.
Paying attention to the subject line shouldn’t just be about the first email in an exchange, either. How many times have you changed subject in a series of emails, but never changed the subject heading to match? For long term reference, seeing a dozen emails all with the same subject is less than helpful. But by adding parentheses and an extra keyword or two to flag where the conversation may have changed, you can save yourself a lot of future frustration.
It is hard to know which email will ever become a future important point of reference, so sparing a thought for the potential need to refer back to a message months down the track can help guide the words you choose in your subjects.
If you want to get very serious about email keywords, you can install tools that extend the functionality of desktop clients like Microsoft Outlook and Apple Mail. These can add explicit capabilities to tag your own received and filed email, making ongoing reference easier than ever. For those who may use elaborate folder structures to sort their mail already, a common flaw to such systems is when an email should be filed in two different places. With tags you can assign to multiple groups, and in future search based on one or more terms.
Seamus Byrne is is a technology journalist and the founder, director of creative, and host of Byteside.
Photo credit: OmirOnia @ sxc.hu