I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

You should follow me on Twitter here.

For more, check out the archives.

We’re often compelled to write an email by filling out both the subject line and the body. Within the body, we might even have a salutation, a closing, and a signature. If you have a quick message to send, skip the body, and shorten your message to just the subject line:

Shorter is better

A standard email telling everyone “I’m going on vacation” might look like this:

Standard email

That’s a lot of work just to say “I’m going to be gone for two weeks”. Instead, just put the main point in the subject line followed by “[END]” and leave the body blank:

Subject-line email

Why? It saves time

At first, it seems like a subject-line email doesn’t save you all that much time. It’s just 15 seconds or so less than writing a full email. But seconds add up to a lot in a year. Imagine all the quick emails you send annually, and you’ll realize you could be spending that time doing something productive or fun. More importantly, you’re saving the recipient’s time by not compelling them to take the extra step to open the email to read more.

40 Comments

  • mono

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    8:30 am

    If you wouln’t waste your time by posting such stupid tips, you wouldn’t have to save time by leaving the message body of your e-mails blank.

    If you don’t have the time to write down 30 words, then you either must be typing pretty slow or else something’s wrong with your time management (or with your life).

    (Don’t take it personal, I like lifeclever.com (except for those ‘hip’ ‘web 2.0 colors’), but this is just… silly.)

  • Rosano Coutinho

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    10:01 am

    @mono I disagree. If you can get a message across in less time, why would it be a bad thing? It would definitely save time for people that can’t write a good email in the first place.

  • Mark

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    10:12 am

    Hey I have a new tip on how to be more productive in life. Let’s start by accepting the only person in here with something wrong with their life is you and your bad manners Mono. If you have something helpful to say great, otherwise just keep it to yourself. I doubt the guy who runs this blog gets paid to do it and especially doesn’t get paid to read abusive comments like that.

  • jonesy

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    10:17 am

    The only problem I have with this: over-enthusiastic spam filters. I’m thinking server-side filters set to catch “empty” emails (I doubt most folk have their personal rules/filters set to detain such).

    I suppose if the sender’s address were on the “good” list, this shouldn’t be a problem, though.

  • Adam

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    10:24 am

    Good Tip!

    At where I work alot of staff do this but they never put anything at the end of the subject like [END] so I have to view the email only to find out its blank!

  • Chris Messina

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    11:02 am

    Actually, standard practice has been to use [EOM] (i.e. end of message) — at least in my circles.

    [END] is probably a bit more clear, but if you’re dealing with open source devs, [EOM] will probably be more familiar. ;)

  • mono

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    12:31 pm

    Okay, let’s talk about manners. When you send someone a message like “Going on vacation, back in two weeks [END]” that isn’t very polite, is it?

    You could also “save a lot of time” (“seconds add up to a lot in a year”) if you wouldn’t say “hello” or “have a nice day” on the phone. Would you call a friend of yours and just say “Going on vacation, back in two weeks [END]” and then hang up? I doubt it.

  • Mark

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    12:59 pm

    Actually, I’d say that depends on the dynamic of your office. There could very well be a list of recipients that would only need to know you were going to be away and may not care where or any other specifics. Maybe it wasn’t the best example. Either way, I wouldn’t get to hung up on the example and miss the idea.

    I’ve worked at places where people use this sort of direct subject title with the [EOM} and it’s very useful.

  • jeff matthau

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    2:11 pm

    to save what? 15 seconds? you’re jokin’. [end]

  • Mark

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    2:29 pm

    well say there’s 40 people in your office and you send them a message that as you say, saves 15 seconds. That’s 10 min the company saves that day. I think over a year if those 40 people used this method for messages like this, that time would be surprisingly significant. There are so many emails that go out like: “out of office for the rest of the day”, “back in office on wednesday”, “staff meeting at 2pm” etc., that just don’t need to be opened.

  • jeff matthau

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    3:11 pm

    mark: what a grotesque calculation; the person writing the message saves 15 seconds (as the author of this post claims), but why should the others save the same amount of time? do you think they would need 15 seconds to read the signature of their own company?

    (most mail clients display a preview of the selected item, so you usually don’t have to open e-mails, you just have to select them. but, depending on the lenght of the note and the size/layout of your mail client, the “[end]” mark might not be seen in the subject line, and in this case you would have to open the e-mail in order to read the whole text.)

  • Ignes Erajji

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    3:18 pm

    C’mon! You could save a lot more time if you wouldn’t need to go to the toilet. Just cut a hole in your chair and put a basket underneath it. ;-)

  • Sean

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    3:55 pm

    Now that’s a clever tip Ignes. I’ll write that one up for next week. ;-)

  • Mark

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    3:56 pm

    You’re absolutely right Jeff, the whole thing is a bad idea.

    *everyone go back to your houses, there’s nothing for you to see here.

  • Pach

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    4:27 pm

    Folks more than your time typing – it saves 20 people you are sending the mail to. So its a time saver for 20 odd readers

  • Fred

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    4:38 pm

    This is no more “impolite” than text messaging someone. Email is NOT formal communication in most circles. it is a way to quickly disseminate information. There is a great plugin for Quicksilver that helps facilitate this type of email.

    I would hardly think anyone would think an email crafted in this manner would be offended. If they are, then they should not be using a computer to send messages at all. And by the nasty tone of some here I highly doubt they should be reading blogs like these anyway if they cannot appreciate a useful time saving tip. If you don’t like the tip, move on, be quiet, and go craft a lengthy email. We won’t be offended….promise.

  • Chanpory

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    6:07 pm

    Fred, I think you nailed my intent right on. The point is that electronic forms of communications such as emails and text messaging devices are being used more and more for the coordination of tasks and events, rather than just friendly personal correspondence.

    For messages that are intended to be very personal or that require great detail to explain, it would certainly make sense to write a lengthy email. Of course, if it’s that personal, perhaps a phone call would would be better.

  • Tedd

    gravatarAug 28, 2006
    6:25 pm

    I’ve done subject only emails for a long time. It’s not a matter of saving yourself time, it’s a matter that people don’t have to open a mail and read a bunch of blah blah text about your upcoming vacation – rather, they read the subject and they’re done. No need to open the message, they can just keep ripping through their inbox.

  • heltah skeltah

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    12:25 am

    (this was mentioned before:) nobody saves time because they don’t have to open such an e-mail. you have to open (or select) it anyway–otherwise it’ll stay marked as “unread”. there’s really no difference.

  • Steeeve

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    1:18 am

    There’s nothing more frustrating than receiving ‘blank’ emails!!

    I’d rather leave the subject filed blank and write the short note in the body. (That way there’s no fancy ‘e.o.m.’ tag needed.)

  • Beth

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    1:40 am

    I view my email in the preview pane, which saves tons of time because I don’t have to open each message. It bugs me no end when people send me emails with long Subject lines that spill out of viewing range. Then I have to open the email to read their long Subject line. It takes MORE of my time, not less.

  • Rich

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    2:14 am

    I think it depends on the situation. But generally subject only e-mails are a bad idea. Here are a few reasons..

    • It’s the beginng of a bad habit, which is creating long subject lines. I’ve received e-mails where people try to enter very descriptive messages in the subject line. And the body only contains their e-mail sig. Most people don’t realize that there’s a character limit for the subject line, and the message will be cut off if it’s too long.

    • Some spam filters will think blank e-mails are spam messages and will delete them or send them to the spam folder.

    • If you have time to create an e-mail, then you have time to add a subject and body. You’re only going “waste” about 10 seconds of your precious time. Sheesh.

    • From the example; If you’re going on vacation, why bother sending a subject e-mail? You should be using the auto-response feature in your e-mail program instead. That’s what it’s there for!

    • If your inter-office communications consists of quick questions and replies, you really should be using instant messaging. At my company, we all use AOL IM and/or Yahoo IM and it saves a tremendous amount of time. No more e-mail tag, no more waiting for replies, and no more accidentally deleted e-mails. Download Trillian. It’s free and it supports multiple accounts.

  • Get to the point with subject-only emails » LifeClever ;-) at Oliver Gonzalez Beacon

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    3:41 am

    [...] Get to the point with subject-only emails » LifeClever [...]

  • diddler

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    4:06 am

    I agree, it’s a bad idea. If you want to send short msgs why don’t you use im?

    Ppl who need to save 15 seconds must be REALLY busy. Maybe you should get yourself secretary who writes e-mails for you :)

  • Dave

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    7:04 am

    I have not received too many emails like this, and until it becomes wide spread, I can only see myself opening the email “just in case”.

  • Ken

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    9:03 am

    Whats worse is when it’s an auto-reply, and they set it to respond to all recipients! So everytime a companywide email goes out, we ALL get a follow-up that “Tom” will be out unitl December.

    So I am all for someone being proactive and sending it out ONCE, and ending it.

  • Fred

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    9:08 am

    I don’t agree with subject line emails becoming a bad habit. Here’s why: 1. They are NOT to be used for a long message. If you’re putting long messages in the subject line then you missed the point. (which I think is happening here on this thread.) 2. if you use a preview pane to view your mail then there is no question that is no further message. 3. If you do not use a prieview pane then (EOM) or (END) should be a clue that there is no more.

    I’m really perplexed why this is such a big deal. Where does the mind set come from that anyone HAS to use the body of an email if it is just to pass along four or five words. It’s kind of like a telegram, concise.

    And no, text messaging is not an option for everyone because: 1. It can cost people money 2. messaging usually interrupts people for something that can wait, and in this case does NOT need a reply.

  • r

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    5:33 pm

    when people use something text based to read email like emacs, a subject-line only email is irksome because you have to go back and look through all the headers to find the subject.

  • Aaron

    gravatarAug 29, 2006
    6:35 pm

    I use and prefer the EOM tag at the end of the subject. Part of the appeal is explaining the abbreviation to newbs.

    -Aaron

  • aquira

    gravatarSep 7, 2006
    10:00 am

    you mus be crazy.

  • Mary

    gravatarSep 11, 2006
    3:42 pm

    I have no problem with content-less emails, but the idea that you’d send one when you’re going to be gone for two weeks is crazy. If you’re going out to lunch, or are out on an errand, that’s fine, but unless you have absolutely no responsibilities whatsoever at your job, any email you send before you leave should probably have some sort of content directed towards your fellow employees, and if you have basic social skills you’d probably want to be polite and fill your coworkers in on where you’re going.

  • Kaitlin Duck Sherwood

    gravatarJul 25, 2007
    11:22 pm

    I’m the author of the Overcome Email Overload series; I’ve talked with a LOT of people who use a LOT of different email programs.

    Many of the things you are disagreeing about have to do with differences in what email program you use. If you use programs that preview, yeah, it’s not much of a total time savings — you eventually have to select the message, if only to delete it.

    However, there are some email programs that don’t preview. The extreme is the text-based email programs (which show all the headers, making it easy to lose the subject line), but also Web-based email programs (Yahoo, SquirrelMail, etc) tend to have no (or very limited) previewing.

    Note that even to preview, you have to select the message. One really nice thing about putting a lot of information in the subject line is that people can take it all in one glance at the inbox, without even touching the mouse or keyboard.

    Descriptive subject lines are thus almost always a Good Thing, even if it isn’t a one-line sentence. Subject lines aren’t always easy to write. I advise people to pretend they are walking up to someone and saying, “Hey, I wanted to talk to you about…”. Whatever finishes the sentence usually makes a good subject line.

    (Because they can be taken in at a glance, one-line subject messages are particularly good for urgent messages like “Belligerent drunk out back, exit via front! [EOM]“.)

    About length — unless you know exactly how your correspondents’ email programs and spam filters are going to treat your subject lines, I would be very very very cautious about making the subject lines too long. I’ve seen a lot of spam that had very long subject lines for reasons I’m not going to go into here; many email programs don’t have the ability to show more than about 80 characters in the subject line.

    I frequently use single-line messages, with “EOM”, but I always take a second to copy the entire subject line and paste it into the body. That takes about .5 seconds, bypasses filters that don’t like empty messages, and make it less confusing for people who page through messages without really reading the subject lines.

  • Wasim

    gravatarAug 17, 2007
    7:24 am

    I waste time by having to click on the email, not knowing whether or not it has a body, getting disoriented by the lack of a body (especially when I was first exposed to body-less emails), and then getting a bit annoyed because I got disoriented.

    15 seconds is a small price to pay for a short sweet friendly body although I acknowledge that 15 seconds per email adds up.

    If you have the opportunity to communicate with people, seize that opporunity to better your relationships, or communication skills. Just don’t write an essay.

    Personally, I’d look for the holes in my process where I’m losing the pound, not the penny.

  • JC

    gravatarAug 22, 2007
    9:56 am

    IT SAVES ME 15 SECONDS NOT TO HAVE TO USE THE SHIFT KEY, BUT IT MAKES ME SOUND LIKE A RAVING MANIAC. Oritmaybehardtoreadwithoutpunctuationorspacingorcapitalsoranyrealthoughtnornounverbnounstructure.

    If you work in a high stress environment, and you get a subject only email from a demanding SOB, all you want to do is print it out and jamb it down his conceited, arrogant, pontificating throat.

    It’s not about technology nor time savings. It’s about common office courtesy. I am a human being, not a machine. Speak to me as a person, and email me as a co-worker. Save your text messages for your cell phone.

    If your message is so brief as to not warrant content, maybe it lacks any real value in the first place. Why respond at all? Why not pick up the phone or just keep your mouth shut.

    Have fun with your 15 seconds. Use it to work on a personality.

  • marilyn

    gravatarSep 29, 2009
    9:04 am

    If you use an asterisk at the end, wouldn’t you know there is no body text? (and you won’t have to write end or eom)

  • Tom

    gravatarOct 8, 2009
    11:04 am

    Subject-only emails cost me time. In Thunderbird, for instance, there is no “opening” of an email, it just is open. You down-arrow or click through the list of emails and read each one in turn. If I hit a blank email I then have to figure out what mistake the yutz sending the email made.

    Sending a subject-only email really doesn’t save time for the reader. It is an outdated idea whose demise cannot come quickly enough.

  • Jon March

    gravatarNov 21, 2009
    9:15 am

    kaitlin nails it

    this can work great, as long as the recipients browser doesnt cut off the subject line! – ex: good for in-work, full screen recipients.

    BUT-more and more people use iphones, blackberrys, droids, to check mail, even whern thy have a full screen at their deck with the same account!!!

    ….so be sure you keep messages within the browsers subject line preview character length, and they can actually >SEE< (END) typed! …or it will actually be a WASTE of time!

  • johnson

    gravatarFeb 23, 2010
    1:40 pm

    NOTHING IS MORE ANNOYING: I ignore such emails. The sender intends ME to divine what they intend to say. That usually results in failure to communicate. It sends the receiver into a tailspin scramble of finding related threads of emails. It’s avoidance of responsibility. It appears dictatorial.

    There, I said it. It is anti-productivity. Period.

  • johnson

    gravatarFeb 23, 2010
    1:43 pm

    PLUS; whatever happened to WHO< WHAT< WHEN< WHERE< and WHY? those are the basics of good communication and I dare say can not be communicated by some person dedicated to Twittering on their email subject line.

  • lee

    gravatarMay 13, 2010
    6:42 am

    I just reply to the person in the subject line. Hopefully they get the hint soon. It is very annoying getting a subject only email.