A Clever New Way to Use Email Subject Lines

Don't you hate when people don't read your emails? Get-It-Done Guy explains a tactic to make sure your email doesn't go unread.

Stever Robbins
2-minute read

(Newsletter Exclusive) A Clever New Way to Use Email Subject Lines

Don’t you just love it when you spend a long time composing a wonderful email, you send it out to your team before the meeting and everyone arrives, not having read it? It’s a common problem, and it’s not their fault. Many of us get hundreds of emails every day. Your coworkers do, too. Rather than concentrating on writing a long, thorough email, consider changing tack to get people to respond.

Concentrate on the subject line. Most of the time, we write subject lines that describe our message. If we’re sending a message with sales statistics, the subject line might be “Q3 Sales Statistics.” While that’s descriptive, it doesn’t give enough information for your recipient to decide if they should open it. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Most likely they’ll put it in their “Urgent, must be opened!” folder, along with the 9,000 other messages already waiting for the nonexistent day when those messages will be read.

Instead, summarize your message in your subject line. If the person can get the whole point of the message by reading the subject in their preview pane, great! The very act of receiving your message and scanning their inbox will give them the information they need. Otherwise, your summary will give them enough information to know if they should open the message and read further.

Some examples:

  • Descriptive: Q3 Sales Statistics

  • Summary: Q3 sales fall everywhere except the southwest

  • Descriptive: Meeting changes 

  • Summary: Status meeting moved from Tues 3p to Wed 4p

  • Descriptive: Document attached

  • Summary: Uncorrected draft of Dan’s book attached. 200 pages. Small type. Long sentences.

  • Descriptive: YIPPEE!!!

  • Summary: J.P. Licks’s Oreo ice cream cake declared official food of our company cafeteria.

For more hints on how to write subject lines that get your message read, check out my episode on how to write good email subject lines.

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About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.