How to write effective email subject lines

Writing an effective email starts with thinking clearly about the content. Then, think also about the subject line. How can you explain what your email is about - clearly and concisely? How can you catch the attention of all your busy readers?

Start by drafting the email first. Then draft the subject line. This will make it easier to write the subject line and save you time.

Here are three strategies to write an effective subject line:

  1. Be brief - write up to about 7 to 9 words (note form is generally acceptable

  2. Be informative - ensure the subject is clear, include the key words, urgent deadlines

  3. Be action oriented - attract attention, if you want action from your readers, state the action in the subject eg for approval for endorsement for your action or please read

Common mistakes

Many subject lines merely state the topic. Or they are too general and don’t accurately describe the content of the email. Or they are too short and not informative.

  • State dates clearly for example it’s easy to confuse Jan, June and July. State the dates in easily recognisable date formats eg avoid 4/3, 3rd of April, 2021.

  • State times clearly and easily recognisable time formats. Only you only use 24-hour clock when you really need to.

  • Do not overuse urgent, otherwise all your emails very quickly all look urgent and then they will lose impact each time you state urgent.

  • Use capitals sparingly because it can seem like shouting and screaming for attention.

  • Be careful with using COB, EOD, ASAP (Close of Business, End of Day, As Soon As Possible). These are unclear. Only use COB, EOD or when you are writing to readers in other time zones.

What are the differences between the subject lines below?

a) XYZ material submission

b) Issue with XYZ material submission

c) Rejection of XYZ material submission

d) Rejection of XYZ material submission – resubmission required

Subject line (d) is probably the best because it states the topic and impact clearly. Just stating ‘issue’ does not explain the issue. Also, if the reader doesn’t have time to read the email, he won’t know the main point. But, if he just reads the subject line, he will already have a good idea about the contents.

Consider: How will you change the way you write subject lines?

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