Practical Communication

7 Rules for E-Mail Subject Lines

I’ve been on the road training for the past two weeks and will basically be gone for the next four weeks as well.

Although I have e-mail access on my cell phone, I’m not always able to check it during the day and e-mails tend to pile up.

Part of my sorting process is looking at who sent the e-mail and more importantly, the subject line, to determine which e-mails I’ll open and deal with now, versus those ignored until the weekend, versus those discarded without being opened.

Apparently, I’m not alone. According to recent studies, billions of e-mails are sent every second, and employees send and receive nearly 200 e-mail messages each day.

As a result, people don’t read many of the messages they receive, or at least don’t read them in a timely manner. If you want recipients to read your emails, you have to write short, compelling, and specific subject lines.

The final chapter of my book, “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done,” is entitled, “E-mail Subject Lines That Get Attention.”

Here are some tips from that chapter.


1. Keep subject lines to no more than 52 characters, including spaces. Any more than that will usually be “cut off” when a person is reviewing his or her email queue. If you don’t make the most of those first 52 characters, the recipient may not take the time to read further.

2. Summarize the bottom line of the e-mail’s message. A good subject line is like a good newspaper headline. It lets the reader know the overriding message of the body of the e-mail so he or she can determine whether to open the message.

3. If you have a question and it fits in the subject line, put it there. There’s no need to have a subject line that reads, “Have a question for you,” and then write “What’s your cell phone number?” in the body of the e-mail. Why not just put “What’s your cell phone
number?” in the subject line and keep the body of the e-mail blank? This way, the recipient doesn’t even have to open the e-mail to know what you want.

4. If a recipient has something to gain by opening, or lose by not opening an e-mail, state so in the subject line. If you can provide motivation to open the e-mail in your subject line, the odds are, people will open the e-mail and read it. However, don’t become “the boy who cried wolf.” If you provide false urgency as a method to trick people into opening your emails, they’ll stop opening any of your emails.

5. Split e-mails with multiple topics into multiple e-mails, so that each subject line reflects the content of the e-mail. No one wants to open an e-mail with a subject line that reads, “Lots of questions,” or “Several issues of concern.” Subject lines like
these are not only unappealing, but make it difficult for recipients to find the correct e-mail later on if they need to refer back to a specific “issue” that was included in the multi-topic e-mail.

6. If a message requires some action on the part of the recipient, state the action in the subject line. Especially when the action is time sensitive, it’s important to state
the action in the subject line, so the recipient immediately knows what the action is and when it must be completed.

7. Avoid unnecessary words, such as adjectives and adverbs. Although we shouldn’t use slang or incorrect abbreviations in e-mail subject lines, it’s okay to dispense with adjectives and adverbs. Do we really need to say something is “very good” or is “good” good enough? Cutting extraneous words will help keep the word count down in our subject lines.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

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

Get Your FREE Customer Communication Checklist

Are your team members communicating effectively with your customers?
Find out with this Effective Customer Communication Checklist.

You have Successfully Subscribed!