The Subject Is the Subject
Friend of the blog Kasey recently asked, “How are we supposed to use capitalization in the subject line of an e-mail?” There isn’t a single rule governing subject lines, but there are two commonly accepted ways to capitalize titles (of anything—e-mails, books, memos), and each have their own rules.
Sentence-style capitalization, which seems to be the most common approach to e-mail subject lines (as well as most newspaper headlines), is straightforward enough: capitalize the first word and all proper nouns. For example: Kasey’s top five Santa Barbara lunch spots.
Initial capitalization, which is equally acceptable for e-mail titles, is a bit trickier. The following elements should be capitalized:
- First words
- Nouns (proper and common) and pronouns
- Verbs (note that this includes tiny words that are commonly confused with articles or prepositions: Is, Are, Be)
Examples: Kasey’s Top Five Santa Barbara Lunch Spots; What Is Kasey’s Position on Subject Lines? (Lowercase the purely mechanical forms of speech—prepositions and articles [in, on, to, and].)
Is one style more appropriate for e-mail subject lines? It depends on who you are, what you’re sending, and whom you’re communicating with. If you’re e-mailing an informal note from your personal account to a friend, then sentence-style is just fine. But if you’re a businessperson e-mailing a newsletter to customers using your company’s institutional account, then initial capitalization will give the message a more formal, authoritative feel.