Reader oriented reports

Emails with effective subject lines

How many emails do you get a day? Too many, right? For good or bad, emailing surpassed telephoning as our primary method of communication in the workplace years ago. Yet today we still receive poor, confusing and ineffective emails – and worst of all we still write them too! If you want to improve the quality and impact of your emails, there’s no better place to start than at the beginning – start by writing an effective subject line.

The email subject line is where writing effective emails begins. It is often the first thing that your reader sees, and plays a key part in whether they open the email immediately, later or not at all. And it’s pretty simple to do. Here’s how …

writing emails that people read

 1) Write your subject line first

Too many of us either just hit reply, forward or even write nothing at all in the subject line. An email with a blank subject line isn’t going to get the attention it deserves, may go unread and will certainly be difficult to find later on. Obviously you’ve planned your email before you started writing, so write the subject line before you write your email.

2) Keep your subject line simple, clear and honest

An effective subject line should be simple to understand, clearly convey why you are writing, and accurately summarize the email’s contents. This helps your reader prioritize the email’s importance without having to open it. It also help you to build trust with your reader , as you’ll quickly be seen as somebody who is clear, open and reader-oriented.

3) Keep your subject line short, with key words at the beginning

A typical inbox reveals about 60-70 characters of an email’s subject line. That’s about the length of the last sentence. HOWEVER today more than 50% emails are ready on mobiles. This means you’ve got 20-30 characters to get it right. Place the most important words at the beginning!

4) Help your reader (and yourself) by using obvious keywords

Your reader, and perhaps you, manage the flood of emails via search functions, filters and folders. That’s why it’s important to include keywords related to the topic of the email that will make it searchable later.

5) Don’t cry wolf too often

Think carefully about how often you want to use words such as URGENT, NEED HELP, PRIORITY etc. If you use them too often in your subject lines, you should be prepared that when you really need to draw attention to your email, your reader won’t be interested.

6) Make sure you reread the subject line before you click send

Once again, check that your subject line accurately reflects what you wrote, that the key words are at the beginning and your subject line will be easily searchable.

A very short, practical exercise

  1. Open your inbox and look at received emails. Based on the simple guidelines above, how many of the emails in your inbox have effective subject lines?
  2. Now open your own sent mails folder. To what extent would you describe your own subject lines as effective? Can you anticipate the content of your own emails based on the subject lines you wrote? Give yourself a score out of 10.
  3. Now set up a reminder in your calendar to repeat step 2 in 14 days time.

1 reply
  1. Jennie Wright
    Jennie Wright says:

    A great idea – mine are often really long and are quite complicated. I try to say everything in the subject line to help the reader, but I don’t think it does.

    If people red flag an email, I am more curious but it rarely turns out to be urgent – some people I know red flag all their emails which is crazy.

    Good tips and thanks for giving us a task to try out. Oh and thanks for the free book!

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