writing email subject linesInformative email subject lines must be short and descriptive. It is a challenge to be noticed in someone’s inbox, so make sure your business and information emails get straight to the point and highlight important information, without being dramatic or appearing like adverts. People are familiar with (and tired of) marketing emails, and “showy” language is often associated with advertising. Your subjects should therefore be frank, lead with important details and be free of unnecessary words or ideas.


Summarise your message

Can your email, or overall message, be summed up in one or two words? Consider (a) what is the most important topic in the email and (b) if there is an important point to highlight.

For instance with an email complaining about the conditions of a washroom, the topic is complaint, the highlight is washroom conditionsWashroom conditions complaint. With an email requesting information about a new timetable for teachers of history, the topic is new timetables, the highlight is for history teachersHistory teacher timetables.

Highlights may include important names, titles, positions and reasons for writing:

  • John Smith’s Lesson Plan
  • Managing Director’s Report
  • Rat infestation query


Start email subject lines with important information

The most important words should come first, because your reader may see the message on a mobile device that does not display the full subject, or they may choose to only read the first few words. An email about rescheduling an English grammar class may be normally described as Important note about the new time for the grammar class on Thursday, but if a reader only sees “Important note about the…”, the subject is not immediately clear and may be ignored.

Better would be: Thursday’s Grammar Class – New Time


Remove unnecessary words

Any word that does not highlight an important point of the email should be removed. As with newspaper headlines, everyday grammar is not important in a subject line. In fact, grammar words, there to perform a grammatical function, can generally be completely removed. For the most part, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and articles can be removed, as well as many question words, possessives and verbs. Exactly what is important depends on your email, but always be aware that the fewer words the better.

So what are you left with writing email subject lines? Mostly nouns and only the most important adjectives.

Consider these corrected examples:

  • Your details for the weekend trip schedule – Weekend trip schedule
  • Question regarding the new English classroom’s heating – New classroom heating question
  • What documents you must remember to submit for your coursework next week – Necessary coursework documents


Consider searches and filters

If the reader needs to find your email in future, they may use email searches and filters, so try to consider what they would search for. Your important summary words should match these, so do not summarise your message with obscure or unclear language.

Use distinct words that do not have multiple meanings or could form parts of other words, – such as invoice instead of bill, specific dates instead of relative times, and names instead of positions.

For example, February Website Hosting Invoice uses searchable words for a date, product/service and topic – This month’s maintenance bill provides an unclear time with unspecific words that will be difficult to find in a search.


Avoid marketing language

People now associate many words, and styles of writing, with advertising and spam. These may seem like a good idea to catch someone’s attention, but are likely to either send an email to spam folders or cause people to ignore it. Don’t use words like “free”, ambiguous lead-ins like “important message”, or anything that appears to hook the reader – “exciting news”, “look at this”, “question for you”. You can find more tips on this subject from the experts at MailChimp.

Remember, an informative subject line should inform, making the message immediately clear. It requires practice, as the email subject line needs to give a clear idea of what your message is about. Think about summaries, and choosing your words carefully with your reader in mind. If you have any questions, please contact me or comment below!


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