Write Email Subjects That Have an Impact on the Reader

Write a Subject Line That Fits the Goals You Have for the Email


Describe the central message in a few words. Choose key words the reader will understand immediately. If you are responding to a request, include the key words the requester used.

Generate action or stop action

If feasible, state the action that must begin or must stop in the subject line. Word it so the reader is aware of the action. One company has adopted the convention of writing ACTION REQUIRED, then the subject of the email. That lets the reader know that he or she must read this email to learn what the action is and when it must begin or stop.

Provide reference material

The reader will have to retrieve this email later. Make sure the first key word is one the reader might think of when looking through an alphabetical list of email messages. For the rest of the subject line, write a succinct statement of the reference content using words you believe the reader will use when the need for the contents arises so he or she can locate them.


If you want to persuade or have the reader respond to an appeal, the subject of the email may reflect what is in the subject that is of interest to the reader, or benefits the reader will receive if the results of the email come about. The decision, action, or belief that is the subject of the email may not be presented until later in the email, after you have built your case.

Convey the importance of the message

If the contents are very important or have a time constraint, consider stating that in the subject line: “IMPORTANT – Results of the test.” “RESPONSE NEEDED BY 5:00 TODAY.”Use such appeals infrequently. If you use them regularly, people will learn to disregard them when they come from you.

Include critical dates or times

If the email describes an event, deadline, or other important time and date, include that in the subject line. “Proposal deadline Wednesday” or “New meeting time 3:00.”

Write a subject line that meets the reader’s needs

If you have the option to do so, word the subject as a benefit to the reader. You don’t own your email messages; your readers do. You just set up the email message for them.If you are responding to a request from the reader, use the reader’s request in the subject line: “The Ferndale data you requested.”

Include any important time or date information you don’t want the reader to miss

Write short statements of time or date information so the reader knows when reading the subject line when something must be done.

Coming up with a successful subject line

If coming up with a clear subject line at the beginning is difficult, write your message first and then summarize the content succinctly in one appropriate subject line.

  • Since most emails are brief, subject lines may be two to five words. The subject line may be longer, especially if there are two subjects. Include the key words among the first three words for each subject. 
  • You do not need full sentences. 
  • Occasionally, you might capitalize a word for emphasis, but do so sparingly. Do capitalize words that normally should be capitalized, such as “I” for yourself. Don’t capitalize all he words, as though you were writing a title.
  • Make sure your grammar and spelling are correct. 
  • If you’re combining two completely unique ideas, you might use a combiner (and, &, ;, or +) to join them. For example, a subject line such as “Meeting date + project guidelines” tells the reader what the message will contain with a minimal number of words. 

Example subject lines

The following are all examples of good subject lines:

   Project information

     Jane Smith interview confirmation

     Ideas for the new project

     Outline for Tuesday’s meeting & minutes

     Meeting January 10 – attendance required

     I need your ideas for recruiting


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