Don’t make this mistake in your email subject lines!

A quirky email subject line made me think my husband was spamming me. He graciously allowed me to use his example to remind you to choose your subject line’s first words carefully.

Bad email subject line

Here’s the email subject line as it appeared on my screen:

Can you see why I was concerned that my husband’s email account had been hacked?

The problem: Your subject lines get cut off

Most people don’t see or absorb your complete subject line. Why?

  • Email software typically shows about 50 characters of your subject line on a PC
  • Mobile devices shorten subject lines even more than computers
  • People pay the most attention to your email subject line’s first words. This is why I suggest that you:
    • Put the most important part of your subject line first
    • Put an action verb near the beginning if you’re asking the recipient to do something for you. For example, “Please tell me if you can attend July 11 meeting.”
    • Start with an informative noun if an action verb isn’t appropriate. For example, “FYI, next committee meeting is August 22.”

A better subject line for my husband

I’ve been mulling over better subject lines for my husband’s email. I think the following would work better:

  • Shredder question: Does yours use oil or lubricant sheets?

YOUR subject line questions

What questions do you have about email subject lines? Your questions will help me prepare for my email presentation at the Financial Planning Association’s conference in San Antonio this fall.

Image courtesy of Kookkai_nak at

15 replies
  1. Susan Weiner, CFA
    Susan Weiner, CFA says:


    In that section I try to suggest a better subject line for the email that my husband sent me. He was trying to figure out what form of lubricant my high-powered shredder uses when he wrote that confusing subject line.

    Does my heading make more sense when I explain the back story?

  2. Deborah Lawson, Word Circus, Inc.
    Deborah Lawson, Word Circus, Inc. says:

    Susan, your blog post about email subject lines will be a great example for the “Business Writing for Results” course I’m teaching in October 2012 at Grant MacEwan University (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada). One course component focuses on email — both how to write effective, concise messages and how to bypass those entirely avoidable errors that may come back to haunt or embarrass you. Your post gives a number of helpful suggestions for crafting a clear, professional subject line. Good examples from real life always add credibility to course content, so thanks for giving me your permission to use it.

    And to further respond to Susan Becker’s query about the revised subject lines for your example, how about:
    “Shredder lubricant: does yours use oil or sheets?”

  3. Lloyd Clucas
    Lloyd Clucas says:

    I think the key is to NOT start your email in the subject line. Too many folks do this. The subject line is just that,,, for the subject. Leave it empty if you can’t come up with a clear subject. In this case, I suspect Shredder Paper is the subject.

    As for husband and wife written communications, my wife and I find a chat program is faster and not subject to the concern you expressed.

  4. Susan Weiner, CFA
    Susan Weiner, CFA says:


    Thank you for commenting!

    I agree that a subject line is for the subject and that husband-wife communications go more smoothly off email.

    I would never leave my subject line empty. For starters, that seems spammy to me. I believe it’s always possible to come up with a subject line that’s more useful than no subject line at all.


  5. Chris Reed
    Chris Reed says:

    I was not aware of the 50 letter cut-off but thought there was a limit. Great advice. I normally don’t make it past the first few words. Also, would enjoy your take on forwarding emails. Shouldn’t you change the subject heading to your reasons for forwarding the email?

  6. Kristin Harad CFP
    Kristin Harad CFP says:

    humorous of course, and informative! The length cut-off is a great point. once in a while I find myself just assuming someone will read the whole line. Invert the message, flip it around – get that important info upfront! Great tip! May I use it in my 100 Marketing Tips?


  7. Jeanne Brown
    Jeanne Brown says:

    I loved this post and sent it around to my client so we could discuss effective subject lines. As for Lloyd’s comment about leaving the subject line blank, I would NEVER do that. In fact, I’ve gotten so much spam from empty subject lines that I just delete anything with no subject line without even opening it.

    Thanks, as always, for keeping me informed and entertained.

  8. Deb Mackey
    Deb Mackey says:

    Susan, Excellent advice as usual. Perhaps you’ll follow up with a post about changing stale subject lines that no longer relate to the original string . . .

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