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Challenges to Email Subject Line Use

Creativity, style, formatting and length of subject lines are all important points to take into consideration before you send an email.

Be Creative

Using a subject line that’s specific is most appropriate when corresponding with people who know you or with people who are expecting your message. How do you get the attention of someone who doesn’t know you or who isn’t expecting anything from you?

The answer is – be creative. Writing a subject line that’s creative is an excellent method for improving chances that your email message will be opened.

In this instance, the subject line isn’t used to describe the contents of the message. Instead, the subject line is used to convey some other type of information.

What kind of information? It will vary with each message you send, and it depends on the recipient. The key question is – what can you tell the recipient that will convince him/her to open this message and read it, instead of deleting it? In some cases, you’ll need to be quite creative.

There are numerous types of information you can provide in the subject line to help convince the receiver to open the email message. Here are a few examples.

(Uses for the subject line): Identify who you are
(Sample wording): Lawyer

(Uses for the subject line): Tell how you met this person
(Sample wording): Chamber Networking B’fast

(Uses for the subject line): Tell why you are contacting this person
(Sample wording): Animal shelter fundraiser

(Uses for the subject line): Find things that set you apart
(Sample wording): E-commerce lawyer

(Uses for the subject line): Find common bond with recipient
(Sample wording): Fellow IU grad & lawyer

Subject Lines: Formatting and Style

There is another challenge you must overcome when crafting an effective subject line. This involves the length of the subject line.

The new message box you view on your screen for the subject line will allow you to type as many words as you want. But, the receiver’s screen has limited space. Only a small portion of the wording will be viewed by the recipient.

How much appears on the recipient’s screen for the subject line? It varies, depending on the person’s system and how he/she has the screen setup. A safe guess is that approximately 25 to 35 characters will appear.

Pay careful attention here. This approximation doesn’t mean 25 to 35 words. It means “characters.”

A character is defined as a letter, space, or punctuation. For example, any time your cursor moves one space, that’s considered one character.

Since the space is so limited in the subject line, you don’t need to type a complete sentence. Use a phrase or series of words instead of a full sentence.

This is one time when an incomplete sentence is appropriate. Leave out the little words, and get to the point.

The only “rule” regarding capitalization in the subject line is to be consistent. For example, you may choose to capitalize only the first word. Or, you may decide to capitalize every word.

Remember not to use all uppercase (CAPITAL) letters. This is considered shouting. Shouting at a person would certainly not be the best way to convince him/her to open your message.

Always remember that the creativity, style, formatting and length of your subject lines are important factors to consider before you send an email. Be conscientious of the image you project to your customers and colleagues by using effective subject lines.

About the Author: Kelly J. Watkins, MBA, Louisville, KY. Visit: to order, Email Etiquette Made Easy (a comprehensive guide filled with exercises & examples) or for tips on communication & customer service! (812) 246-2424 or

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