How researchers get heard
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The Best Subject Lines Ever

The New Yorker’s director of newsletters Dan Oshinsky is a god, and if you won’t sign up for his free monthly Not a Newsletter after what I’m about to tell you, then I’m worried about you.

First: because no one else had, Oshinsky sat down and figured out where subject lines cut off for four major email platforms, in mobile and desktop. And then shared it in the May edition of Not a Newsletter with everyone.

And it’s not a lot of characters, especially on mobile:

What’s a preheader for email? In Oshinsky’s words, it’s “the preview text that appears after the subject line in most email clients.” Here’s a graphic he provides of typical newsletters without preheaders:

And here are two emails with preheaders:

Even if you’re a researcher emailing your latest blog post to your personal list, you should know how to write a preheader. Many platforms offer it, or you can manually insert a bit of code at the top of your email to make it appear.

Oshinsky doesn’t provide metrics on how preheaders improve open rates (I’ll ask him later today). But they have to, substantially. As he says:

If you’re not using the preheader, you’re missing out on a chance to tell a subscriber why they should open your email! Use the subject line and preheader together to really sell what’s inside your newsletter that day

Oshinsky didn’t stop there, though. He then made a subject line + preheader length calculator for Not a Newsletter subscribers, which you can copy and use forever.

Using preheaders and writing subject lines that don’t get cut off are two of Oshinsky’s four rules for writing great subject lines.

His first two — “set the tone” and “deliver on your promise” — seem obvious.

But they’re actually everything — not just for email, but for all your communications and marketing. They’re easy to say, but difficult to deliver with constancy and thoroughness.

Takeaway: Three of Oshinsky’s rules are about setting the tone — about making the promise and how to set it forth.

The fourth rule — delivering on that promise — is what excites all of us who work with researchers to help them extend their expertise into authority.

But communicating research isn’t Skinnerian. Our audiences aren’t pigeons with clipped wings in a box, raptly waiting for our occasional pellet.

They’re a nervous flock, easily scattered. We have to make sure they notice our promise — right down to our subject lines — every time.

Now, go sign up for Not a Newsletter.