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A Good Email Subject Line Gets Your Emails Read More Quickly (April 30, 2020)

A headline on a newspaper article or a blog post is supposed to draw readers into the story.

So too, should the subject line on an email encourage the recipient to open the email and read it.

But it also should help the recipient understand what the email is about— and you should never assume the recipient will know just because you just emailed them about this last week or you only have one case pending with them. We do understand that many times it is best not to put a client name in an email subject line. But we also understand that overflowing inboxes means many lawyers are often looking for old emails still in their inboxes, so make sure yours is easy to locate by subject line.

Let’s be informative and avoid these seven subject line sins that keep our emails from being read.

  1. No Subject Line The one thing worse than a bad subject line is no subject line at all. You come across as careless or maybe even concealing your true message. But an important thing for you to understand is that having a blank subject line greatly increases the possibility your email gets grabbed by a spam filter.
  2. The Ordering or Demanding Subject Line “Please call me ASAP” is a bit scary, especially if sent to a subordinate. But it is not as bad as “We need to talk” which really sounds like you should be checking to see if there are empty boxes should you find yourself packing up the personal items from your former desk soon. And if you are sending demanding emails with subject lines like “!!!!!!!” or “??????,” you had better be someone’s supervisor because none of the rest of us are going to open those for a while. Exclamation points rarely have a place in business emails, but the double exclamation point should never be used—unless you are trying to start something!
  3. URGENT Sometimes we feel like we must put Urgent in a subject line but, if you do, lose the All Caps. Far better is a specific time reference. “The Brief Due 5/1” or “The May 19th
  4. DON’T SCREAM AT ME WITH ALL CAPS Just don’t.
  5. Re: Re: Re: Fwd: Re: Fwd: Fwd OK, once the subject line has so many Re:’s and Fwd:’s that you cannot even read the original subject line, it is time to either prune your subject line or maybe just start with a new email.
  6. Quick Question We lawyers all know this one. When someone says this, the question may be short, but the answer may not be. Too many lawyers read this one as “Please answer this interrogatory from me” and don’t be surprised if the response is to keep on scrolling.
  7. This is so-and-so Ahem, your email “From” line already told them that. So any additional information is better.