Posted by: episystechpubs | January 17, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Capitalizing Email Subject Lines

A few people have asked me whether to capitalize email subject lines. Although the question is straightforward, it’s a tough one to answer.

Donna and Kara wrote previously about email etiquette and email subject lines, but they didn’t address this particular point. I wasn’t able to find a relevant rule in any of our style guides, and an informal survey of my inbox found a 50/50 split.

While I can’t answer this question as definitively as I’d like to, I can provide some suggestions.

Three Rules for Writing Email Subject Lines

Here are three rules you should always follow when writing email subject lines:

  1. Capitalize the first word.
    Incorrect: delicious pancake recipe
  1. Capitalize proper nouns.
    Incorrect: Surprise party for ernesto on saturday
  1. Don’t capitalize every letter.
    Incorrect: BALLROOM DANCING LESSONS

Tip: Kara’s post has some suggestions for writing attention-grabbing subject lines.

As long as you follow those three rules, you can choose between sentence-style capitalization and headline-style capitalization.

Option 1: Sentence-Style Capitalization

Capitalize the subject line as if it were a sentence. In other words, don’t capitalize any words except the first word and proper nouns.

Examples:

  • Funny kitten video
  • Don’t forget our Wednesday meeting
  • Wherefore art thou Romeo?

You can use sentence-style capitalization even if the subject line is not a complete sentence. Some people say that sentence-style capitalization seems more conversational, so you might decide to use it for casual emails and avoid it in a formal context.

Option 2: Headline-Style Capitalization

Capitalize major words (such as nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs), in addition to proper nouns and the first word of the subject line. Lowercase minor words (such as articles, prepositions, and conjunctions). Capitalize the last word of the subject line, regardless of what part of speech it is.

Examples:

  • Dogs Wearing Sunglasses
  • Turn the Music Off
  • What Light through Yonder Window Breaks?

You can use headline-style capitalization even if the subject line is a complete sentence. Some people say that headline-style capitalization looks strange for longer subject lines, so length is another factor you can consider.

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
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