Write Effective E-mail Subject Lines

Avoid sending e-mails with vague subject lines by following these tips from Get-It-Done Guy.

Stever Robbins
2-minute read

Don’t you just hate it when you get e-mails with subject lines that say, “You just HAVE to read this” or “Important” or “Here’s the file”?

You don’t know what they’re talking about, so you have to open them to find out if they’re important. Then if they are, you save them but can never find them again because you don’t know if “Great idea for kids” is a message about your company’s new theme park, or an ad for that black market adoption service you were considering.

Some people—and I’m sure you would never do this—use the subject line as if they were starting a face-to-face conversation. They write things like “Hi!” or “Hello!” or “What’s up?” FYI: E-mail is not a conversation (especially in the professional world). If you want to talk, pick up the phone or visit in person.

Your e-mail subject line is the first thing people see. Based on that one line, they decide whether your message is relevant. Help them decide!

Mostly, people use the subject line to describe the message. If they’re scheduling a meeting, they use the subject line, “Staff meeting.”  If they’re announcing the meeting is in a new room, they use the subject line, “Staff meeting.” If they’re sending out the agenda for the meeting, they use the subject line “Staff meeting.” Not too helpful, right?

Write Effective E-mail Subject Lines

Instead of using the subject line to describe the message, use it to summarize. Put as much relevant info as possible in the subject line, so your recipient can quickly judge whether they need to open the email. Maybe you can give them all the relevant info in the one line. Then when they’re done scanning, they’re also done reading!

When you schedule your staff meeting, the subject line could be, “Saturday staff meeting, unpaid, 7 am, main headquarters.” For the change of locale, the subject could be, “Saturday 7 am staff meeting moved to conference room B.” And the agenda email subject line could say, “Staff meeting agenda: Why is morale so low? Full agenda enclosed.” See? Fast, efficient, user-friendly.

Brunette working on laptop photo from Shutterstock.

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.