Email subject lines are very important. Ideally, they should tell what the email is all about even before you open it

Why even bother writing better email subject lines?

Subject lines allow people to better prioritize your request.

Another reason for good summary is that nowadays the search in emails is pretty good and you can find any email within seconds …. Of course if you did your homework and crafted nice email subject line and especially if you didn’t leave it empty because you were “busy”.

Some may argue that it’s possible to use a search by sender’s email address but it’s not very efficient because we send and receive hundreds of emails per day. Having to check multiple emails just to find the right email requesting help is time consuming and can affect your productivity a lot. Trust me on this.

Emails with subject lines such as the following will force the recipient to open the message in order to see what it is all about.

Examples of bad email subject lines.

  • Empty subject line
  • I have a question
  • Help
  • Are you busy / available?
  • ????

Here are my recommendations for crafting good email subject lines.

1. Start writing the email in this specific order

When starting the email write the message first, subject line next and finally the recipient’s email address.

By starting in this order you’ll have a better idea what to include in the subject line after you’ve written the message. Try to stick to only one topic per email. We’ll have another article on that topic soon.

The recipient’s email should be added last because that way the email program/site will show an error if you try to send it earlier by accident or before it’s ready. Services such as Gmail have a setting option to allow you to undo email send within 30-60 seconds. Look that up. It can save you from embarrassing mistakes.

2. Put project id/ticket id/client code or other relevant information first so it can be automated.

I like to put the project name, client code or a ticket # (if any) before the subject line because a client can have multiple sites/projects and can easily tell which project the email is all about.

For example my Awesome Client has project for;

Subject line: [AC] email testing is done. It’s your turn now.

AC is an abbreviation from Awesome Client. It is important to have that because we and/or the client can set up email filters for such keyword(s). You may have a forwarding set up for certain clients or for certain project. For example an email can forwarded to a text messaging service so you know that something is up with a website or the app and can look into it ASAP.

3. Clear Actions if action is required

Using clear call to action in the email subject is nice so the client knows what’s expected of them.

Our internal process is that we test things a lot but that still doesn’t guarantee bug free software that we’re shooting for. For that reason we ask the client to test the software too.

This is because people with developer backgrounds tend to perform the testing differently than people with business/marketing backgrounds. The main goal is to have fewer bugs regardless who find them.

Sometimes I’d add action required text to drive even more attention to the email’s contents.

Subject line: [AC] Action Required: email testing is done. It’s your turn now.

This is important because when a feature is considered done it’s better to be tested as soon as possible because the fixes & the code is “fresh” in the developer’s mind.  If you let several weeks to go by the troubleshooting won’t be as effective.

Additionally, when a feature is well tested by everybody and is in good shape it can be released a lot sooner. Clients can share their feedback about it while other tasks are getting done.

What can you do when clients ignore your email subject line process?

Some clients will message you on slack, Skype or even Facebook. It’s up to you to ask them (politely) that in order to keep things more organized for both of you it’s better to continue via email.

You need to be patient with them.

There were cases that I’ve had to copy and paste the discussion that happened elsewhere, fix its formatting and put it in an email to the client so we have a track record of the conversation.

If a client sends you an email without a subject line you have to evaluate if the email is important or a onetime thing. If it’s one time thing and not as important you can let it slide.

If it’s important, however, it’s better to edit the subject line and add a nice summary and reply back.

I’ve even put “Re: “ in the beginning of the email so it looks like it was added by an email program.

Original email subject line: none or not descriptive

Example: Re: Dec 31, 2020 Meeting has been rescheduled.

In conclusion I’d say knowing that you don’t have to remember the all the details in an email is very freeing and you can focus your mind to do some awesome work. Today it’s important to know how to find things rather than try to remember them.

What are your tips for writing a better email subject line?