Email Etiquette: Subject Lines 101

Photo taken by Julie R

Spam and viruses scare me to pieces. I get apprehensive about opening any message that seems remotely suspect — so much so that I will actually text the sender to make sure they weren’t hacked. Perhaps I’m a bit anxious. But sometimes a vague subject line just screams danger, even if the content is totally harmless.

Let’s all agree to be clearer and more specific with our SLs to prevent messages from erroneously ending up unread and deleted. Here are some examples of problematic SLs. Meaning: don’t use ’em.


SUBJECT LINE: “Hey Stranger…”

Photo taken by Ross Burgess


•“Oh NOW Suzie gets back to me. She probably wants study guide answers. What a mooch.”

•“Not another Nigerian prince…”

•“Why would Suzie call me a stranger?  It must not be Suzie. I’m not opening this.  It’s probably a Trojan horse.”

•“Definitely a murderer.”

EMAIL BODY: Suzie just wanted to catch up!  She’s moving back to town and hoped you could hang out sometime. cl



Photo taken by Korjarle Matlessa


•“Oh, Erin was hacked.  Because she would NEVER send a message with a blank subject line. DELETE!”

•“Erin’s too busy to type out a subject line?  Maybe I’m too busy to open her message.  That’ll show her.”

•“If the subject is blank, then the actual message must be blank, right?  Because the subject line is a preview? Too literal? Don’t care.”


EMAIL BODY:  It’s an invite for a surprise party for Jenny, a mutual friend. Erin didn’t want Jenny to accidentally see the subject.


SUBJECT LINE: “You’re not going to believe this!”


• “If Patrick sends me one more spammy ‘FREE IPAD’ email, I’m going to issue a citizen’s arrest.”

• “My eyes hurt every time I look at an optical illusion message…not about to risk it/not interested.”

• “Then why are you sending it to me, Patrick? Seems fruitless.”

• “Believe what? That you’re a MURDERER!?!?!!?”

EMAIL BODY: Patrick found some old pictures of you both from elementary school and embedded the photos in the message.


SUBJECT LINE: “Earn $$$$”

Photo taken by haymarketrebel


• “Ugh. My neighbor is involved in a pyramid scheme.”

• “This must be one of those ‘sell your kidney on the black market’ things I heard about on Dateline. My neighbor is so weird.”

• “Typical of my neighbor. Getting spammed again. Dragging us down with him.”

•  “Definitely a murderer’s scheme.”

EMAIL BODY: Your neighbor wants to know if you’d be able to watch his dogs while he and his parents are out of town.



Photo taken by קלאופטרה


• “Oh great. Another chain email ‘joke’. These are the worst.”

• “Someone must’ve hacked into Amanda’s email account. And the hacker is LOLing about it. I won’t fall for it.”

• “Amanda doesn’t know that I’ll laugh at whatever this is. How presumptuous. MOVE TO TRASH!”

• “Not only are you a murderer, but you’re a laughing murderer. How insensitive.”

EMAIL BODY: Amanda wanted to share an anecdote from her Europe trip that she thought you’d appreciate.  It involved cheese, baguettes and aggressive pigeons.

7 thoughts on “Email Etiquette: Subject Lines 101

  1. … said the website who uses subject lines like:
    “only you can prevent chain mail”
    “Ew. You have spattergoit.”
    “you’re a kidnapper. You’ve been kidnapped.”
    “Stop. Sending. That. Text.”
    “How To: eat books.” (hm definitely a murderer)
    “your instincts tell you to open this email”
    “Alan Rickman is your spirit animal.”
    “please save us from the monsters!”
    “click here for books”
    “your valentine’s date awaits”
    etc. etc…

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