The Worst Email Subject Line Mistakes — And How to Avoid Them

The Worst Email Subject Line Mistakes — And How to Avoid Them

If you spend a lot of your time asking, “Hey, did you get my email?” then you may have a subject-line problem. On average, people spend 28% of their workweeks reading emails, according to stats from McKinsey, so they’re making a lot of tough calls about which ones to open. That’s why the perfect subject line matters.

Get it right by capturing the receiver’s attention, and you’ll be rewarded with a quick reply. Get it wrong, and your missive will likely get buried in the inbox (or worse, deleted). Here’s what not to do.

Re: “Checking In …”

Kicking off an email with this phrase, which carries with it a whiff of nagging, may not get your email completely ignored, but the recipient isn’t going to stop in the middle of lunch to read its contents. Instead, try “Following up,” which suggests action on your part, or simply “Thanks again for your time.” As with most things, an attitude of gratitude always helps.

Re: Being Funny

If ever there was a place where humor goes to die, it’s in email. The odds of misinterpreting are too great, and it’s especially true if you attempt to pull off this feat in the subject line. Keep it concise, short and sweet, and save the funny stuff for actual conversation.

Re: The Subject Line That Is So Long That Not Only Does It Read Like an Actual Email, It Also Gets Cut O ...

See what I did there? No one wants to feel overwhelmed before they even get to the body the email. And many people are reading their emails on mobile devices, where long subject lines can get chopped. A good rule of thumb is to keep the subject line within five to seven words.

Re: The Empty Email

The subject line is just that — a glimpse of what the subject of the following body of text will be. When you pose your question in the subject, and leave the body of the email blank, here’s what you're transmitting: I shot this note off so quickly that I can’t be bothered to move the cursor and type some more. It’s a glorified text. The bad news is, when you show that little attention towards someone’s time, you can expect the same amount back. Find something to say in there.

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Don’t be that person who allows a subject field to devolve into a never-ending chain of re:s. Even if you didn’t initiate the exchange, there’s no law preventing you from slapping a helpful little identifier in there. If there’s really none that apply, then maybe the conversation is best moved to chat.

Re: URGENT THINGS!

Reminder to all: All caps is the same as shouting. DO NOT SHOUT IN YOUR SUBJECT LINES — IT IS RUDE. There might be a few exceptions (OMG YOU LOOK BEAUTIFUL TODAY from your work bestie is always appreciated) but generally, it’s a terrible idea. Ditto the exclamation point, because now you’re rubbing salt in the wound.

Re: Getting It Just Right

If you’ve ever wasted non-refundable minutes of your life fruitlessly searching for an email, you know the properly worded subject line can be a real blessing. And in the present moment, getting the subject line keeps your email from going directly to the deleted folder, and at best gets you the response you’re hoping for. Keep it clear and concise: Are there keywords that cut to the chase of the actual, you know, subject of the email? Focus on those, and delete anything extraneous. Then sit back and wait for the responses to flow in.

RELATED: Stop Putting Smiley Face Emojis in Your Work Emails, Cool? :)

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