More thoughts on email subject lines

Continuing the discussion from Federico, The iPad guy, uses MacBook and becomes prolific:

I wanted to comment on this, without hijacking the original thread.

I use the subject line for complete short messages with an EOM appended to the end. I use the subject line to alert someone when I’ve just sent an attachment without having to include a useless message, such as “Here are the files were talking about.” I use the subject line to distinguish among multiple topic-threads when I’m collaborating a group of people on multiple issues. I use subject lines (like you [@tf2], @snelly, and @Bmosbacker do) to make finding important things really simple. The whole process of doing it right takes about 8 seconds, and makes your future self happy (as @Bmosbacker also noted) because you can find things nearly instantly.

I am so annoyed when someone sends me a new thread from as reply to a message thread from 2 years ago with the subject line like “RE: re: re: our call from yesterday.” (It’s a shame e-mail systems cannot allow users to edit the subject line of messages they receive for better organization.)


I used to get long technically worthless explanations of some problem a user was having. I would ignore the message click reply and prepend the subject with: CALL ME

OTOH when I received a message that I could act on, when the job was complete I replied to their email with DONE as the first word in the subject.


NICE! I’m going to incorporate these into my system.

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Bad or useless subject titles annoy me so much that I frequently change the title when replying to emails which does annoy others. But, I rather annoy others than myself. At least thats the case at work. Thankfully, Microsoft Outlook also allows you to rename the subject on emails received. For example: I receive monthly report and each time the person will have the subject as “monthly report” and each time, I rename it so its clear which month the report relates to - “June 2022 Monthly Report”.

For personal stuff, I use HEY which allows me to change the subject for emails. It works well.


I didn’t know outlook allowed you to do this. Where do I find that feature?

It probably is for the Outlook Windows app. Having said that, I have been using it for over 8 years. it is pretty neat too. open the email, click on the subject and edit it. Going forward that is the new subject title.

I do fear that Microsoft may remove that in their next version but my employer takes years to upgrade so I think I am good for now.

This is the sort of feature that would have me consider switching literally everything over to Outlook. And I hate Outlook.


Email is almost nonexistent at work (let’s talk about renaming chat messages…) but I also enjoy renaming bad subjects in Hey or annotating the email.

I love that about Outlook as well. Gonna try that renaming replies tip :smiley:

You’re right it may be just windows =(

One thing I also do is remove attachments before archiving an email in Outlook for Mac since I have a MS automation that automatically saves all attachments to a Dropbox folder so I can find it if I ever need to (with attachments renamed to include sender, date, etc)

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Sounds like heaven. I was excited when I set up our first email server in 1992. By 1994 I had learned to hate it.

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Most tech companies have moved from email to things like slack. They still use email but much less.

For me, our organisation is email first. We don’t have anything like slack. if we need something, we know it’s in our email as opposed to searching various different channels. A system that works … somewhat


Isn’t that just changing the subject of the email you are sending, and then all future replies to that email will reflect the new subject? Isn’t that true of all email apps? I’m sure I’m missing something!!

Some years ago a French company banned email for internal use. The CEO said email wasted too much of their day. They had 70,000 employees and 30 or 40 offices around the world. He was my hero. :grinning:

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i am referring to just any emails. For example, Say I sent you an email with the subject: ANDROID IS THE BEST… You open the email, edit the subject title to ANDROID is NOT THE BEST and close the email. From that point onwards, that email will have the new subject title. This has nothing to do with replying to the email.

BTW: it also annoys me when people have the subject title in ALL CAPS lol

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There is one thing about me that everyone learns eventually. You send me an email typed in ALL CAPS, I delete it without reading.

I edit subject lines all the time when replying. I have several (!) customers who send emails with “company name” as the subject. This turns into a multiple threads of “re: company name” messages if I don’t fix it.

I use the old school method of appending “was:” to the subject (I think that was a usenet thing but I can’t remember):

Subject: re: our call yesterday
Renamed: Meeting next week (was: our call yesterday)

One of the nice features in Hey lets you rename whole threads locally without affecting what other participants see. I wish other email services/clients let you do this.


One of the most useful uses of the subject line I’ve seen is including a FYI (For your information), FYA (For your action) or FYR (For your reference) in the subject line.

It gets pretty messy when there are several recipients, though, but the most important gotcha is that the whole organization needs to observe this rules otherwise you end up being the guy that keeps sending strange subject lines :stuck_out_tongue:


A favorite one of mine is “NRN” meaning, no reply needed. This cuts down on unnecessary responses.


I’ve been a fan of the US military method since I saw this article in 2016. I have yet to encounter another adopter of it though. The Air Force has a handbook called The Tongue and Quill with more info on their written communication standards.

Basically, you use a standard set of keywords at the front of your subject line, so recipients can quickly scan their inbox and see what needs their attention. These keywords include:

  • ACTION – Compulsory for the recipient to take some action
  • SIGN – Requires the signature of the recipient
  • INFO – For informational purposes only, and there is no response or action required
  • DECISION – Requires a decision by the recipient
  • REQUEST – Seeks permission or approval by the recipient
  • COORD – Coordination by or with the recipient is needed

Another benefit is that if you’re in an org and they adopt this method, you can set up email rules based on these keywords.


This is great! I’m going to refine and add to this and then implement it with my senior leadership team and ask them to do the same down the line. My Head of Institutional Advancement will love this. He is an alum of our school, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, a retired JAG officer, and former law professor at the AFA. He’ll appreciate this. :slightly_smiling_face: