FWIW, SSIA. EOM and HTH. What?

Clear, short subject lines are the key to delivering your message. Picture: Pexels.

Clear, short subject lines are the key to delivering your message. Picture: Pexels.

Published Mar 10, 2024


Durban — TBH, ICYMI, IDK WTH to do. Mostly, delete.

Maybe an open letter to most – but not all – PR people will help.

Our inboxes are constantly bombarded with Very Important Communications. About 300 (a conservative guesstimate) drop into mine daily. Spread across an average of a 10-hour day, that’s 600 minutes, so about two a minute a day. That doesn’t sound exactly overwhelming, right?

And mostly, it’s not – many I have asked for or subscribed to or are indeed Very Important to our work here at Indy.

The ones sent by most communications people, news agencies or publications that give you the bullet points of the latest local and international news and developments are vital to help us do our work, to understand the bigger picture and the possibilities of what could impact our little world at the bottom of Africa. The option is there to skim over them, stopping only to delve deeper when we need to know more about an event and its implications. Perhaps it’s even a light, heart-warming tale of achievement.

Unsolicited mails can be a big help if they tell us, in a few words, about interesting events or shine a well-deserved light on people’s accomplishments. These we act on immediately and follow up because we love to share those with readers.

On top of the emails, we get hundreds of daily WhatsApp updates – again from groups we have chosen to join, like emergency channels or Community Police Forums or those that are essential to keep up to date with colleagues.

But in this deluge, if you can’t catch our eye with an intelligible, error-free subject line, expect to go straight to File 13.

Generally, it’s the acronyms that get my goat (these are not the email GOAT). If your subject line says something like “AFB seals UAP deal with XYZ for DEAICE ISST”, you can be sure it’s not going to get more than an irritated click into the bin. It may be hellov interesting and important, but if you can’t be arsed to say “new deal promise for energy” or whatever it is, in plainspeak, I can’t be arsed to unravel it, for me or our readers. If we can’t even understand the subject line, why would we open the email?

The example subject line quoted above is made up, but I swear it’s representative.

Then there are the other mailers, the ones who don’t trust the ether or the interweb universe to deliver their vital message, and so they send it five or six times.

Being on a number of mailing groups, I check whether that’s how so many landed up in the inbox and often find they’re all to “me”. SMH.

As a newsroom, we rely heavily on email. After more than 40 years in the business, I marvel at how we did this work before technology stepped in. But we do plenty of the old-fashioned work: thinking things through, asking so what?, researching, drafting questions (often sent by mail or WhatsApp), planning and writing or editing. For much of this other work, we use other programs and may not check our mails for an hour or more, but seldom longer than that. When we do ask questions via email, we know those people also have proper jobs, may not get to it right away and we keep them brief and in clear language.

And only prod when the deadline looms.

And all the while our inboxes build…


Independent on Saturday

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