In a humorous and delightfully candid article for The Washington Post, author Phillip Bump points to the email subject line as an outdated hindrance that he calls “a waste of time.”
Bump argues, “Emails don’t need subject lines because: 1) nearly every way you check your e-mail previews the full content anyway and 1b) threads them, 2) perhaps 98 percent of the time, you can guess what the e-mail is about based on the sender, 3) subject lines are wrong, and 4) the 0.2 seconds you spent on a title are better spent petting your dog.”
The subject line, Bump says, was originally intended to help organize and access emails. While this makes intuitive sense, people tend to remember the content of their emails more so than the titles, so the case could be made that subjects don’t help with anything at all.
As Bump also points out (and we’ve all experienced), the title of the email can often end up having nothing to do with its content whatsoever. In an ongoing email thread, the original title had some purpose, but the conversation may have veered off into a plethora of other, unrelated topics.
However, others argue that there is significant value in the subject line in helping to sort messages by urgency, project, and even personal vs. work matters. Advocates for keeping the feature also believe its seeming uselessness lies in user error, not in functionality. And that when utilized properly, the subject line is not only helpful, but necessary.
Whichever way you lean, the subject field will probably remain at the top of our emails for a long time. It’s simply too unimportant of an issue to address. Good news if you love them. If you hate them, well, you’ll probably still be skimming over them on your iPhone 12.