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Freebie: Checklist for Writing Better Email Subject Lines 

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Updated 6.17.24

Better email subject lines are easy to spot for one simple reason: they get the reader to open the email. 

Checklist: write better email subject lines

You can measure your email open rate with objective data, recorded by your email list manager. The open rate reveals in large part whether or not your email subject line works

But what if you don’t know how to write subject lines in order to boost your rate?

News flash: gone are the days when you can write “Hi from Jane” or “Your Newsletter from XYZ” in the subject line. Email is a powerful way to communicate, but people get a lot of it. But in your eagerness to write better email subject lines that get the Open, you don’t want to write click bait that doesn’t deliver. 

Writing good subject lines becomes not just a matter of getting the Open click but a matter of building a good reputation as a reliable content provider. When a reader sees your name in the subject line, you want him to be confident that he’ll get good content.

Bottom line: write well. Even when it comes to email subject lines.

After you write a subject line, run in through this checklist as a self-check. Make adjustments. You’ll write better email subject lines that are authentic AND get higher open rates. (Download a print version of the checklist here.)

(Download your own PDF copy of this checklist here.)

Download this checklist for writing better email subject lines with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter

Free Checklist for Writing Better Email Subject Lines

  1. The subject line is 50 characters or less
    In a recent study, subject lines with 28-39 characters had the highest click open rate. 
  2. The subject line is 7 words or less
    Email is going mobile – and most mobile devices display only 4-7 words in the subject line. The subject lines with highest open rates are 7 words or less.
  3. The From line is personal
    If your reader knows you personally, use your name in the “From” line. If your email is to be sent by your organization, put the organization’s name in the “From” line. You’ll get a higher open rate when your reader knows who you are – whether as a person or an organization. Likewise, if you can include the reader’s first name in the subject line, do so. Personalized email subject lines have up to a 37% higher open rate, according to Experian.
  4. Capitalization is consistent
    Should you use sentence case (capitalize the first word and proper nouns only) or title case (capitalize words as you would in a title)? When it comes to email subject lines, both are acceptable – choose your personal preference or use A/B testing to decide which is better for your readers. But what’s not up for grabs is consistency. Choose one approach and stick with it.
  5. The subject line offers a benefit
    Not sure how to phrase your subject line in a way that shows the reader what’s in it for her?  Subject lines framed as a question – one that addresses her needs, wants, and desires – piques her interest. They want to know the answer and they assume they’ll get it in the email. (Don’t disappoint them or they will consign you to the junk mail box next time.)
    Along those same lines, try a “How to” headline. Just make sure you give the explanation of how to in the email.
    You can also use words that boost open rates: Free, Tomorrow, Alert, Sale, New, Video, Daily, Weekly. Avoid words that mean lower open rates: Quick, Meeting, Newsletter, Monthly, Journal, Whitepaper, Training, Forecast
  6. The subject line is specific
    One way to write a better email subject line is to include numerals. Subject lines with hard numbers have a higher open and reply rate: “6 Short Videos to See by Tomorrow” versus “Check Out These Videos” – or even more specific: “41.7% Moms Use This Word Each Day.” An extra benefit to using numbers: they take fewer characters than words.
  7. The subject line is urgent or exclusive
    In a recent study by Adestra, subject lines that indicate urgency and exclusivity had a 22% higher open rate.  A deadline or a timely issue moves readers to click Open rather than wait until later. Just one word or phrase can create a sense of urgency such as “Now,” “Today Only,” or “By 12 PM.” Or leverage your offer for a specific group of people in your subject line – and where possible, link that with words of urgency: “For XYZ Members Only Until 12/15.” Then make sure you keep your word. Caution: frame the urgency or exclusivity as a benefit to the reader, not in salesy language. People want to read email from a friend – not someone that wants to “sell” them.
  8. The subject line avoids bells and whistles
    FW, RE, emojis, caps, exclamation points – they’re a crutch. Don’t use them.
  9. Test the subject line
    Use your email list manager to conduct split tests and find out what email subject lines work best for those on your list

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