Persuasive email subject lines

These days, one of our most important writing skills is the ability to draft a short “subject line” for our emails.  So it amazes me how carelessly many people approach the task.  But it matters – because we get so much email.  So your email in my inbox is competing with so many others to get read.

And before you say: “but most people read all of their emails” consider this: have you ever accidentally skipped an email on a busy day and not found it until you tidied your inbox days or weeks later?  I know I have.  Your subject line needs to grab my attention and compel me to open it.

Here are some tips:

  1. Make it clear who the email is from – especially if your email address will be unfamiliar to me
  2. Keep it brief – but not at the cost of obscuring the message.  Your subject must let me know what your message is about
  3. If it’s urgent say so  – but only if it really is.  If you get a reputation (which will stick after one or two slips) for claiming fake urgency, you’ll never lose it
  4. Hyperbole (grossly exaggerated statements) will make your email look like spam
  5. “Show me the money” – use your subject line to demonstrate why I should read your email
  6. … or at least get me curious

and finally:

7.    Write it so it means something to me – rather than to you

I thought of writing this when I got an email from someone whose name I did not recognise, with my home address as the subject line.  I immediately sniffed spam or phishing.  Actually it was neither: it was a quotation for some repair work that we need and I was waiting for it.  To the administrator in the office, my address made it easy to file her email to me.  To me, it failed to tell me who it was from, what it contained, why I should read it – or even trust it, or how urgent it was (very).



About Mike Clayton

Mike is an author and speaker, specialising in personal effectiveness, project management and the management of change. When we try to make change work for us, things don't always go as planned: Shift happens! Over the years, Mike has developed personal and professional strategies to anticipate and deal with shift. You can contact Mike at
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