Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

Communications (M.S.)

Degree Program

School of Communications

First Advisor

Hansye Dulimarta


The writings of Saussure, Peirce, Barthes, Eco and others express theories that symbols, signs, and signals are integral elements in the assignation of meaning within general human communication. Email marketing specialists such as Stephanie Miller, Andy Goldman, and Jeannieay Mullen opine that it is the email recipient’s inferences regarding the words in the address or subject lines that are the primary determinants in the decision whether or not to first open and subsequently respond to a commercial email. It would then seem that email marketers would be well served by understanding what forms these inferences in the minds of the recipients and what responses are more likely when email recipients view the symbols, signs, and signals placed in subject lines.

A series of 219 commercial emails from a national chain retailer were evaluated comparing the recipient response rate (the percentage of emails actually opened) with the presence of terms deemed to be relational in nature. Those emails with relationships related terms in their subject lines exhibited a 6.2% higher open rate than those not containing those types of terms. This study’s purpose was to determine if there could be a demonstrable relationship between the word-driven symbolic (semiotic) content of the subject lines and the percentage of those emails that are opened by the recipients. To accomplish its purpose, the study reviewed the positions of 13 semiotic theorists and applied certain of their theories in an analysis of the open rates of these commercial emails.


Questions or concerns regarding the copyright status of this item may be directed to

Included in

Communication Commons