Subject Headings

Question: I seem to remember one of you chaps giving me a lesson on subject headings, which I have continued to follow. This basically means that you read the list of subject headings and only click on to what will interest/concern you. If we kept to that system, I am sure it would help. Could we have another lesson for everyone please?

Answer 1: That is the policy that I apply – I get the digest format and only open up those messages that look as though they might be of interest. I probably miss loads that way, but at least I’m saving time and minimising clicks! I’m not holding my breath for change though – I run another mailing list and nobody takes a blind bit of notice about the good ettiquette that is cutting short the previous message/using useful subject headings/not writing to one person by sending to the whole list/etc.

Answer 2: In this case though, what we do with our mail may have an adverse effect on our bodies so there may be more incentive to “behave”.

Answer 3: Unfortunately for each individual poster the incentive is working the other way towards minimizing keystrokes. It takes more keying to snip and to change subject headings, and even to adjust default mailer settings so that html is not sent. It’s a kind of Prisoner’s Dilemma situation. We all save effort, hence pain, if we all observe the guidelines, even though that requires spending (slightly) more effort individually.

Answer 4: At least those of who don’t have RSI/WRULD can make a point of trimming everything down, to help those who do!

Answer 5: Having just ploughed through six digests – a thought came to me! The main subject heading does not always correspond to the actual subject of the e-mail. I could give examples, but I don’t want to “upset anyone”! It would help, I am sure, if they did correspond, as then you need only pick out the headings that would be of interest? If this was what everyone was trying to get at and I’ve repeated, I’m sorry.
I’ll stop thinking now!

Answer 6: As in a normal conversation, the topics drift about and not everything is to the point, but to get quality conversation you have to let this happen. There is a convention, first used on Usenet in the 80’s and still good IMHO, which might help. It indicates the drift, but retains the thread, and readers to choose to follow or skip.
Consider, for example:
Subject: Giant ducks once ruled the earth
Follow-ups would be:
Subject: Re:Giant ducks once ruled the earth”
As this topic inevitably drifts to Chinese cooking we indicate that the thread has drifted, but is related, by: Subject: Chinese cooking (was: Giant Ducks once ruled the earth) Then to: Subject: RSI and pancake rolling (was Chinese cooking) …. and so on.

If you look on most mail readers they will automatically put the “re:” in when a follow-up is made, and automatically remove it when the line is turned into a “was”, which shows how old the “was” convention is.  It isn’t as widely used as “Re:” (I still remember the year long “RE: vs Re:Re: vs Re(2):” debate which, first established the “Re:” convention!) but it has stood the test of time. As always, a suggestion only. There are no hard and fast rules unless you are in a debating group, but this one does help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.