Professionals today are bombarded by emails, many of which they read from an iPhone or Blackberry. If you want your email to receive the attention it deserves, follow these tips for Email Subject Lines and Email Message Content.

Email Subject Lines

1. Provide a short, concise summary of the subject of the email in the subject line.

Example Subject Line – Scheduling a meeting:
“Meeting suggestion: Mon Nov 13 @ 12:00pm – Website Project Name – My Company Name – Client Name”

2. Be specific. Ensure that the subject line and the content of the email align.

Do not start a new thread/topic by replying to an old email. When the topic changes, create a new email with a unique subject line.

The way that mail apps now “stack” all emails with the same subject line, thereby grouping emails into “threads”, makes it tempting to simply leave the subject line untouched for the duration of an email conversation. But, many emails in the same thread make finding key details in that thread very difficult. Dividing emails into separate, smaller threads, by renaming the subject line to match the direction of the conversation, makes information retrieval much easier.

Example Subject Line – Follow-up post-meeting:
“Meeting action items: Mon Nov 13 @ 12:00pm – Project Name – My Company Name – Client Name”

3. If the subject of an email changes mid-email thread, change the subject line to reflect it.

Example – Conclusion to the meeting-scheduling thread:
“Meeting confirmation: Mon Nov 13 @ 12:00pm – WProject Name – My Company Name – Client Name”

4. State key information the person needs to act at the start of the subject line.

Consider: if the recipient is only able to glance at the subject line of the email without opening it, what key information does he/she need to know?

Example – leading up to the meeting:
“Meeting time changed!: Mon Nov 13 @ 4:00pm – Project Name – My Company Name – Client Name”

5. Order information from most important to least important for the recipient of the message.

Use an “inverted pyramid structure”: state the most important, briefest information at the top, adding additional details further down.

In the example below, from the recipient’s perspective, identifying “My Company Name” is more important than reading their own name “Client Name”. Tag the “Client Name” on at the very end for your own identification.

Example – leading up to the meeting:
“Meeting time changed!: Mon Nov 13 @ 4:00pm – Project Name – My Company Name – Client Name”

Email Message Content

1. State the most important information at the top of the email, including any requests or calls to action.

Example – Time-Sensitive Requests or Deadlines:
If there is a timeline associated with the request, state it first. “Please reply to this email before Monday’s 6pm meeting.”

Example – Deliverables:
“Please forward the meeting minutes.”

Example – Action Items:
“Please complete the attached form.”

2. The more formal the relationship, the more formal the email greeting and closing.

The better you know the recipient of the email, the more lax you can afford to be with greetings and closings. However, for more formal relationships, do not sacrifice politeness for brevity. These formalities set a positive, cordial tone for the email.

Example – Formalities for clients or acquaintances:
Start with: “I hope this email finds you well and business thriving.”
End with: “I look forward to your response at your convenience.”

3. Limit each email to one subject, even if it means sending the same recipient 3 emails rather than 1.

For instance, if you need to discuss three clients with a project manager, send three separate emails—one for each client update.

Allow Archiving by Subject: The recipient likely has three separate email folders (or tags) for these clients so separating out by subject allows the recipient to file the emails accordingly and easily find them again in future.

Limit confusion: A separate thread for each client also ensures that you do not confuse projects or deliverables—misinterpreting a comment to refer to one client or topic when it actually refers to another.

4. When you start a new subject mid-thread, start a new email.

For instance, when initiating a new subject, do not incorporate it into an established thread. The recipient may feel obliged to scroll through the old email thread, assuming it contains information relevant to the current subject, when it actually contains information from another thread that is completely irrelevant to the current topic.

5. Help recipients find replies you have added within their original email content.

If you have added replies within the recipient’s original email content, tell them so at the top of the email. Use an identifying colour to help them find your answers and start them with your name in caps. In fact, it is better to copy and past their relevant message into the reply and remove extraneous content from the original.

“Hi Name, I have provided my answers in your original email below in Green with “DEB:” beside them.”


Writing user-friendly emails sends an important message between the lines of your email: “I respect your time and I’m going to make this as easy as possible for you.” Happy emailing!