Business Writing

Talk, tips, and best picks for writers on the job.

Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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January 06, 2013


McClain Watson

Good stuff as always, Lynn. My students always underestimate how important the subject line is but it is tough finding real-world examples to show them. I look forward to showing them this this semester:

How cool would it be to do A-B testing of subject lines FOR BUSINESS?! It'd be great to get funding for that sort of thing.

Jeannette Paladino

The subject line is the most important element in any email. It's the "grabber" that pulls the reader into the body of the email. Copywriters spend hours on the subject line -- that's how important it is. Otherwise, the reader will hit the delete button. If you have the time, you could try doing a split test of two different email subject lines to see which pulls best.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, McClain. It is easy and fairly inexpensive to do A-B testing with subject lines. I can do it with my Aweber email mailing service. You just need a sizeable subscriber list and the right email service.

Thanks for the link to the article about the Obama campaign's testing of email subjects. I was shocked to see that the vague subject "Hey" pulled in millions of dollars. I am certain that is one message I instantly deleted.

Depending on which class you teach, I think focusing on giving a clear, concise, specific subject might be more helpful for students than thinking about what gets results in a huge campaign. I don't think you would want to encourage them to use "Hey" as a subject, would you?

Thanks for stopping by.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Jeannette. Thanks for suggesting the split test. I believe I will try that for my next newsletter later this month. I will make a note to report on which subject line inspired more opened emails.

I am certain my subject won't be vague!


Dudu Grinberg

How common (or rude) it is to write the whole message in in the subject line? I keep getting such emails (mostly intra-office emails) and at first they seem stupid but they seem to make the job done (especially when you need to go over a couple hundred emails a day).

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Dudu. This blog post answers your question:

Such subject lines can be very effective.


George Raymond

I look at both the subject and the sender of an e-mail. The "Hey" subject worked because it was from an organization of interest to me, not a spammer.

If an e-mail concerns an upcoming event, usually I include the date in the subject (usually including the day of the week) to orient the reader. This is often lacking in the mails I receive.

A related question: The pros and cons of editing the subject of an e-mail for clarity before replying.

J. Venis

The email that alerted me to the presence of this column had only "Business Writing" as its subject line. That's not very specific.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, George. Thanks for your view of the "Hey" subject from the Obama campaign. You are right: The sender can make all the difference.

Putting the date of an event in the subject is a great suggestion. Of course, one must also include the date again in the body of the message. Otherwise, people may not find it!

You may enjoy the discussion of changing the subject in two posts on this blog. One is "Efficient Update of an Email Subject Line":

The other is "Don't Change the Subject!":

Thanks for dropping by and sharing your views.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

J. Venis, you are correct. When I upload a blog post, an email automatically goes to blog subscribers, and the subject is always the name of the blog. In my case, all the emails will have Business Writing as the subject.

I wish I could tamper with that feature so I could give you the title of the specific post. I am hoping that subscribers will be willing to open the message and read the title.

Thanks for helping me recognize the reason some subjects may be vague.



Good points Lynn! I need to go read your blog posts about changing the subject line, as I do that quite frequently.

Specific subject lines are much better if you must go back and find a specific email, so I try to return the favor and use specific subjects. It sure helps when I'm looking for an email, amidst all my colleague's subject lines like "Another thing from the meeting..." or "You might remember this..."

Thanks for the help, Lynn!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Patrice. Those are excellent bad examples! Thanks for sharing them.


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