Robert Garment
Director of Marketing

Cut Through the Email Clutter with Crystal Clear Subject Lines

October 15, 2008
by Robert Garment, Executive Editor
Everyone is pressed for time and choking on WAY TOOOOOO MANY EMAILS TODAY.

But your emails must get through! Or your business will suffer -- right!?

So here are some tips on making people actually read--and like--your emails:

A subject line should sum up the message and leave no doubt about what's inside. This is the best way to get your email opened and read immediately.

Here's a subject line that doesn't do the job: "Status of your order #34234-09" If you don't know what that number relates to, you're pretty much in the dark.

Here's a better subject line: "Shipping status of your Replacement CT X-ray tube order #34234-09" That took me all of an extra 9 seconds to write, and it's absolutely clear what the email is about. In fact, keeping the order # in the subject line doesn't hurt, because if the customer needs it, now he has it.

Here's another sloppy subject line that you might get: "RE: Yesterday's teleconference." It might take you a while to figure out which phone call this e-mail refers to, and the subject line is too vague to help you make an action decision. What about yesterday's phone call? Does the email contain notes, a follow-up, a question about the call or an answer to a question raised during the call? The recipient might not open this immediately and move on to others that do have a sense of urgency, importance, or clarity.


Let's say you called someone, got a recording, and left a voicemail asking the person Alan Luger's resume for a meeting. The next day, these are the first 5 emails in your inbox:

"For tomorrow's meeting"
"Teleconference followup"
"For your review"
"Got your message"

Which one, if any, do you think has the resume? None of them might, or any could. If the sender took a few seconds to write, "Alan Luger Resume attached" that would be crystal clear.

Instead of perpetrating the ineffective communication by replying or forwarding an e-mail with a vague subject line, rewrite the heading instead. It only takes a moment to note the essential content of the e-mail in the subject line before you reply.

Most people decide whether to open an e-mail based who it's from (the boss, a client) and the subject line. If the recipient doesn't know you, it's especially important to write a powerful subject line focused on some benefit to the reader. Be specific to spark interest in your particular offering or line of business.

Writing crystal clear subject lines is not rocket science -- all it takes is good old common sense and a little brain power. Sometimes a good subject line might seem so complete that the person receiving the email doesn't even have to open it. For instance, "I'll get to Clarkson meeting after 10am tomorrow." That's much more useful and appreciated than the typical stab at it, which might be: "Re: The Clarkson meeting tomorrow," which is of no use.

So take a few extra minutes a day to write crystal clear subject lines, and your business associates will really be happy you do.