Writing emails can be as simple as conjuring a bunch of set phrases – but it could also be daunting when it comes to selecting the right words for your subject line. Managers and CEOs don’t have all day to go through all their emails every day, and neither do their secretaries. Getting the right message across in the subject line is sometimes all you can do to get the results you want in the business world where time is money. Most English learners tend to write what they should in their email contents in their subject lines. There are some examples and revisions on the right.
In these examples, we see a tendency for students to begin writing an email rather than coming up with succinct subject lines, the purpose of which is to grab the recipient’s attention. There is actually a quick route around this: with the help of some key words, the suspending of ‘perfect grammar’ and the use of more nouns than verbs, you’ll find that shortening your subject lines and clarifying your point has never been easier.
Writing an email is like writing a book. Introduce your characters after you decide the book title. Forget the I and the You, and opt for a key word that conveys your purpose – hence the phrase ‘Subject line’. Ditch those (modal) verbs that force you to include I and You and replace them with nouns instead.
Case 1: Politely decline your partner’s invitation
Subject: I’m sorry I cannot attend the conference…
-> Unable to attend conference
Case 2: Request to delay the deadline of a project
Subject: Can we please postpone the deadline…
-> Request to postpone project deadline
Case 3: Introducing yourself to someone who has no idea who you are
Subject : Hi. My name is Joseph. I would like to…
Greetings from Joseph (Insert name of company & dept.)
Note that the important elements we so revered while studying grammar are no longer permanently applicable in the world of subject lines. As with newspaper headlines, we want to make sure that subject lines are as short as possible. Therefore, instead of saying the conference and the project deadline, we end up with simply conference and deadline.
When you need to decline something, simply starting with ‘unable to…’ should solve half the problem. Don’t be unnecessarily apologetic when writing the subject line unless you have really wronged others big time. I myself tend to write ‘apologies for the inconvenience’ rather than ‘sorry’ as it seems more formal – it also allows me to converse with the recipient as equals in the future.
When asking for something, the words such as ‘request’ and ‘inquiry’ should suffice, followed with a brief description of what you’re requesting. In the last example, using the word ‘greetings’ rather than saying hi is less colloquial and more formal, which connotes a sense of respect for the other party as well as for the sender.
How direct should we be when using English? As there is such a fine line between being rude and simply being direct, one should be careful when asking for favors, giving instructions or making announcements. More often than not a change in perspective will serve as a silver bullet to the problems. Take the sentences on the right for example.
So that I can finish my report on time, please send me the sales figures for May.
Please send me the sales figures so that I can finish my report on time.
You didn’t tell me that you weren’t attending the conference.
We weren’t aware that you weren’t attending the conference.
If you don’t follow these regulations then you will get a penalty.
Those who don’t follow the rules will incur a penalty.
In the first example, the focus is on the writer, and the message comes across as rather self-centered. By shifting the focus to the reader, we can easily show empathy and tact whilst getting the results we want.
The same applies to the second example. By changing the focus from the reader to the writer, one can still convey how surprised one is with tact.
In the third example, the word ‘you’ is used although the announcement is directed to a group of people. Since it is applicable only with people who violate the rules, therefore we can change the subject from ‘you’ to ‘those.’
本文收錄於英語島English Island 2017年5月號