E-mail etiquette: Use an asterisk in the subject for short answers

Don't you hate it when you open an e-mail message and it's one lousy word? Here's a convention that can save valuable time for everyone who uses e-mail.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have an important announcement. When you reply to an e-mail with one or two words, you’re wasting the precious time of the recipient of your reply. I’d like to suggest a better way.

The asterisk says “no need to open me”
I don’t know who invented this e-mail convention, but I’ve been using it for years, and I love it. Here’s how it works.

Suppose somebody sends you an e-mail message that doesn’t really require an answer. However, to be polite, you want to say “thank you.” Instead of putting “Thanks” in the body of your reply, type *Thanks in the subject field of your reply. Then, as long as the recipient knows the meaning of the asterisk, he or she won’t have to waste time opening that message.

The asterisk means “there’s no need to open this message; I’m saying everything I need to right here in the Subject line.” Your recipient can simply glance at the inbox, read the subject line, and then delete the message. Figure A shows a couple of sample messages from my Outlook inbox.

Figure A
Use the asterisk in the Subject field to indicate “no need to open this message.”

One of my colleagues types <EOM> at the end of the subject, indicating “end of message.” While that’s a creative approach, I’m lazy. Typing an asterisk is a lot faster than typing <EOM>. Plus, I like having the visual reminder at the front of the subject field. If you put <EOM> at the end of a long subject, the recipient might miss it.

How will your recipients know what the asterisk means? That, my friends, is a matter of getting the word out. If you like this tip, start using it and spread the good word.
Do you like this tip? Do you or will you use it? Please post your comments below or drop me a note.

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