Updated: Sep 22, 2021
The subject line can be the most stressful and confusing part of the email writing process. It is also one of the most (if not the most) important parts of an email.
Let’s look at a common scenario. You have spent what seems like an eternity crafting the perfect email. You have made your point with clarity, wrapped it up succinctly, and even addressed it to the correct people masterfully. You are proud of this email and are confident it will get the job done. Then you proceed to write the all-important subject line:
INFO-Check This Out
And then nobody reads it.
So much potential email awesomeness can be wasted by a bad subject line. Your email has a high chance of not being read if your subject line is not up-to-par. Below are some tips to help us all improve our subject-line-game:
Go ahead, be direct. State the issue, solution, or purpose of the email concisely in the subject line. Your subject line should give the reader just enough information to know what your email is about and what action they must take. Think of it as a shorter version of the summary on the back of a book (though that metaphor may be outdated now.)
State the “obvious”. If you are emailing someone who doesn’t have industry knowledge or speak your company-specific “lingo”, then help them out by defining those terms. Sometimes the better option is to leave it out altogether. Remember: what may be obvious to you could take some detective work on someone else’s part. We don’t have mind-reading technology yet… though I’m sure that would help many a manager-employee relationship. Or maybe not...
TIP: Be careful, do not write a novel in the subject line. A long subject line is difficult to read on most devices and can overwhelm the reader. Short subject lines will make wading through a sea of emails easier and get the most important issues addressed quickly.
Below is a list of Keywords (for your subject line) that Fast Company uses regularly. They are meant to help get the point across quickly.
INFO: If something is just informative and no action needs to be taken.
ACTION: If action needs to be taken.
COORD: If the purpose of the email is to coordinate.
URGENT: If the issue/info is urgent and needs immediate attention and action.
QUERY: If you need a question answered.
INFO: Monthly User Report - July 2020
URGENT: Your Signature Needed - Acme video contract
Don’t deceive your recipient. Make sure the subject line matches the message in your email. If you respond to an old email to bring up a different subject, then change the subject line accordingly. To change the subject line in Gmail click Reply or Forward, click the arrow icon by the Recipients line, and then select Edit subject.
None of us want our emails to be ignored or deleted because of a bad subject line.
In reality, though, it can happen to the best of us. I’ve been guilty of this many times. We have to remember that while getting and holding your recipient's attention is becoming more and more difficult, we can succeed if we use best practices. Even a short blog post can help to remind us of what we need to work on. We are here to help you become an email ninja!
Keep an eye out for our next installment of Email Tips. Until then, happy writing!