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With the sheer amount of email that’s sent and received these days, inboxes are more cluttered than ever. Which is why, if you want your emails to be read and responded to, you need to make sure to grab people’s attention from the get-go.


And the best way to do that? With the right subject line.


Your subject line is one of the most important parts of your email; it’s what the recipient will use to determine whether said email needs their attention immediately, whether it can wait until later, or whether they should ignore it completely.


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But for whatever reason, a lot of senders treat the subject line as an afterthought—and their emails get banished to the bottom of the inbox as a result.


If you want your emails to get the attention they deserve, you need to put thought into your subject line—and structure it in a way that’s going to generate the results you want—whether that’s an immediate response to an urgent email, a response by a certain day or time for non-urgent issues, or any other kind of response.


But how, exactly, do you do that? What’s the secret for writing subject lines that get your emails open, read, and responded to?


Here are SaneBox’s tips for writing subject lines that drive results:



The first rule to great subject lines? KISS—keep it short and simple.


You don’t need to write a novel for your subject line; in fact, if you go over a certain number of characters (for Gmail, the max is just over 100—and it’s even shorter when your recipient is viewing on a mobile device), your subject line gets cut off—which minimizes the impact of your message.


When you’re writing your subject line, think of how you can get your message without being too length or overcomplicated. There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for how long is too long for a subject line, but the shorter (while still getting your point across) the better.

Make it relevant (and searchable)



Effective subject lines are also relevant to the content in the email. This sounds like it should be obvious, but if you’ve ever received an email with the subject line “Hey!” or “Read me!”—and let’s be real, you know you have—you know what we’re talking about.


Making your subject line relevant to the content in your email not only increases the chance that it’s going to get your recipient’s attention, but it also makes it much easier for them to search and find the email at a later date if they need it.


So, for example, if you’re sending a summary of a meeting, you might use the subject line “Notes from 11/25/18 Board Meeting;” this subject line is a) clear about what’s inside, b) easy to remember, and c) easy to search for if your recipient needs to reference the notes in the future.

Include a clear CTA



If the point of your email is to get something from the recipient, put it in the subject line—that way, there’s no using the excuse “I didn’t realize what you needed from me!”


So, for example, if you’re sending someone from your team a to-do list for the week, use the subject line “10 tasks I need you to complete by Friday.” If you need your co-worker to send you a specific pitch deck for an upcoming meeting, try “Need you to send XYZ pitch deck by 4pm on Thursday.”


The point is, if you want someone to take action on your email, including that action in your subject line is a great way to make sure they a) know what you want, and b) follow through and do it.

Use a category subject line…



If there’s a specific kind of email you send often‚ like a status update or an idea pitch, you can create a specific category subject line. Not only does that ensure your recipient knows exactly what it is, but it also makes it easier to search and group similar emails at once.


So, for status updates, you might want to use the subject line “Status Update [date].” Or, if you’re pitching new ideas, you could use “Idea pitch: [date] and [idea].”


Category subject lines makes it easy for your recipient to identify routine emails and pull up all the emails from a specific category in the future.

…or urgency labels



Some emails are urgent. Some aren’t. Some need a response right away. Some don’t need a response until next week. But there’s no way for your recipient to know that when an email comes in—unless it’s right there in the subject line.


Using urgency labels in your subject line lets your recipient know how urgent an email is, what you need them to do, and when you need them to do it by. And depending on how you write it (brackets and caps can be especially effective), it can also help your email break through the clutter of their inbox and grab their attention.


Here are some of the most useful (and effective!) urgency labels you can use in your email subject lines:

[Action Item] or [Action Required]



Need something done? Use one of these labels to get your recipient to take action.



Ex: Updates to the proposal [Action Required]

[Time Sensitive]



If your email has an expiration date when the content will no longer be relevant and/or actionable, let your recipient know with this label.


Ex: [Time Sensitive] Last chance to RSVP for Tuesday’s Lunch & Learn




Think of this label as a level up from [Time Sensitive]. If your email needs an immediate response, pop the [Urgent] label in the subject line—and if it gets close to your deadline, follow up with a phone call, text, or instant message to make sure you get the response you need.


Side note: don’t be the boy who cried wolf—only use this label when something is actually urgent. Otherwise, it’ll lose its gravity.


Ex: [URGENT] Final approval needed by 3pm

[Not Urgent]



If your email doesn’t need an immediate response, use this label, which can take a ton of pressure of your recipient and help them better prioritize their inbox.


Ex: Interesting new software to consider [Not Urgent]

[Please reply by (date)]



If your email needs a response—just not right now—put the reply date right in the subject line. This lets the recipient know they can snooze the email until your deadline.


Ex: Quarterly feedback survey [Please reply by June 30]

[NNTR], [NRN] or [FYI]



These labels (which are abbreviations for “No Need to Reply,” “No Response Necessary,” and “For Your Information” respectively) are a win on both sides; they save your recipients from wasting time writing unnecessary emails and they save you from wasting time reading unnecessary responses.


Ex: Suggestions for new website design [NNTR].


Ex: Yummy snacks in the kitchen [FYI]




If your entire email can fit into the subject line, use [EOM] (which stands for end of message) to let them know there’s nothing to read in the body—that way, they don’t waste time opening the message and wondering where the rest of the email went.


Ex: Friday meeting rescheduled for 11am [EOM]

Get out there and write subject lines that work


Your subject line is one of the most important components in your email—and now that you know how to write subject lines that stand out from the inbox clutter and drive real results, all that’s left to do is get out there and start emailing!




Email Subject Lines Infographic by SaneBox

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About SaneBox

Remember when email used to make your job easier, not harder? SaneBox gets you and your inbox back to a Zen-like state so you can reduce the noise and focus on the things that actually matter in work and in life. Log into your account now to see SaneBox in action, or sign up to start a 14-day free trial.


  1. Why not come up with 2-3 letter standard acronyms for the full text subject notices, e.g. [AR] = Action Required.

    [AI] = Action Item
    [AR] = Action Required
    [TS] = Time Sensative
    [U] = Urgent
    [NU] = Not Urgent
    [PRB date] = Please Reply By date

    Without a text expander the full text notices are a pain to type.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We’re happy users of TextExpander 😉 but you are very right that without it, the phrases become tedious to type. This is a terrific idea and something many companies would benefit from if they circulated and adopted it internally. Thank you for taking the time to share!


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