The Karate Chop Method: The Secret To Writing Email Subject Lines That Boost Open Rates

Written by Danavir Sarria

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I’m a little weird…

I’m one of the few people who will voluntarily fill up their email inbox with newsletter after newsletter just so I can study them. I do it because I’m a copywriter and a full inbox just means a more valuable one since everything goes to my swipe file.

However, most people are the opposite.

Most people, including your subscribers, hate the fact they are getting so many emails. You already know this, but there’s no shortage of screenshots on Facebook of people showing hundreds of unopened emails from their inboxes.

With so many people’s inboxes flooded with emails like yours, it’s harder than ever to stand out. And while I’m not a fan of open rates in general (they are pretty much useless if your KPI is sales), it is important to know how to write email subject lines that shake people out of their “zombie-like” state and stand out in stupidly crowded inboxes.

Fortunately, I have my own little system to writing such email subject lines fast and with as little mental strain as possible.

I call it “The Karate Chop Method”.

Karate Chops: The Ultimate Technique For Email Marketers

You’ve ever seen old school martial art movies?

I’m not talking about the really cool stuff like Drunken Master or Hero. I’m talking about the really cheesy American “kung fu” movies where everything was just karate. I’m not really sure why America decided to group all martial arts into just Karate, but it happened.

Anyway, point is… it’s because of those movies that karate chops became popular.

That and all the videos of crazy people chopping bricks and boards all over the place.

Funny enough, “hidden” inside that technique are qualities that every email marketer has to pay attention too when it comes to writing subject line. You see, all “karate chops” are pretty much the same.

They are…

  • Short
  • Quick
  • Powerful

In email marketing land, this would mean short in terms of how many words it contains, quick in terms that you it can catch your attention even if you’re just skimming through, and powerful in that it shocks you enough to stop and makes you so curious about what’s inside that you open the email.

What Is “The Karate Chop Method”?


I honestly believe email subject lines are the most important part of any email you write.

However, it has nothing to do open rates or anything else like that…

To write good copy, you need the right idea behind it. When you write email subject lines, you’re essentially deciding on what the story is going to be and the angle you are taking. It essentially sets the stage for what’s in the actual email. This may not be 100% true all the time, but it is that more often than not.

The Karate Chop Method came about because I had trouble coming up with a lot of email subject lines fast. Of the copywriting work I had to do for myself and for my clients, emails made up the majority of that work. This includes writing over 1,000 individual emails over the course of my career.

Heck, I still remember the day I wrote 60 emails within a 24-hour period. Ugh, that was worst…

Anyway, email subject lines are important.

However, most people resort to really basic subject lines that don’t do anything to stand out and feel like you’re giving me a boring calculus lecture rather than something that is actually going to help me (or at least something I would enjoy reading).

Instead, you should look to headlines that make the difference between life and death. I’m talking about tabloid headlines.

Why Tabloid Headlines Make Perfect Email Subject Lines


There are so many magazines in circulation, listing them out would take all week.

This is obvious when you go to the grocery store. Every time I am in line to pay for my grub, I see the whole isle of magazines and tabloids. Some are about news, some about health, some about technology…etc

In an environment like that, the best headlines win. Period. Magazines and tabloids know this, so they typically get the best copywriters and pay them very well because their success pretty much depends on it.

Guess which headlines typically grab my attention?

The headlines from tabloids or the headlines from magazines that are modeled after tabloids.

Regular newspaper headlines are designed to be informational. They essentially summarize what is said in the article itself or act as “introductions” to the body of the story.

On the other hand, tabloid headlines are to design to shock the heck out of you.

They are also just different sounding in general. Many newspaper headlines sound like each other while tabloid headlines sound like scandals.

Heck, till this day I remember reading a particular tabloid headline that was about aliens that were discovered “in hiding” on Earth. I was only like 10 years old or so when I read it, but it was quite a read… especially at that age lol.

Not all tabloid headlines are like that though. Just check out The New York Post for some of the best headlines in the world.

The 5 Qualities Of A “Karate Chop” Subject Line:


Writing email subject lines using the Karate Chop method is completely different from writing regular email subject lines. In fact, you might even be too nervous to actually use them in your own email marketing efforts at first because are that different.

It also takes some practice. While subject lines that say “How to…” or “Why…” are pretty basic and straightforward. These subject lines require a little more thinking and creativity.

It’s not hard though, especially when you know what to look for.

Short & Punchy

Imagine yourself going through an inbox that has 50 unopened email subject lines. Chances are, you’re going to be skimming through them and clicking on the ones that seem the most interesting.

However, if you can’t read the entire subject line or if it takes too long to read compared to the rest, it’s going to be easier to ignore.

Furthermore, unless you’re already a good copywriter, longer subject lines end up being less “tighter” than they should be. Meaning you’ll have the tendency to put in unnecessary words or say too much when a smaller subject line would have done better.

When your subject line is short & punchy, you get to say a lot in a way that’s easily consumable. It’s also forces you to be more careful with what words you use since it could make or break your email marketing efforts.

That’s why I tend to stay between 4-6 words.

Not every subject line has to be this way, but when you practice to stay within this range, you will immediately see much higher quality subject lines.

Active Voice

Back in school, I wrote mostly everything passive-voice.

Heck, I still do.

However, the best writing tends to be in active voice. If you’re a “grammar-dropout” like me, the difference between active and passive voice is subtle, but it’s there.

Basically, active voice has the subject of your sentence doing an action and usually at the start of the sentence. Passive voice has the subject near the middle or end of the sentence and is the receiver of the action.

Active Voice: Monk reveals copywriting secret
Passive Voice: Copywriting secret revealed by Monk

Most of my writing is probably still passive voice (I don’t know. I don’t really check). However, I make it a point to keep my email subject lines in active voice because it’s the key to “punchy” copy.

Just look at the two examples I gave a second ago. There is a massive difference between how the active voice version sounds like versus the passive voice version. It’s just stronger, more energetic, and actually shorter (4 words vs 5 words).

Even if you’re not a writer, like me, remember this.


People love news.

It’s sort of ingrained in our biology (not literally, but you know what I mean). And I mean all kinds of news, not just the type that shows up on your local TV station. News can mean anything from national emergencies to just gossip between friends.

Basically, we all like to be nosy and/or know what’s going on.

Most stuff you see in your inbox is not news-worthy. At best, you’ll see a “New Post!” subject line that might pique your curiosity if it’s from a source you normally enjoy to read from. Most of the time though, it’s some boring blog-like email that supposedly brings “value”, assuming you can stay awake long enough to read it.

News is naturally entertaining.

Right now, as I write this, we’re in the middle of the 2016 presidential race. With about 2 weeks or something left before the final ballots are cast, things are heating up. The past year though has been filled with all sort of news-worthy headlines though.

Everything ranging from Hillary Clinton and her emails to Donald Trump and all the homophobic, racist, and other stuff he says.

Even if you don’t like politics, you want to know what’s going on.

Same principle must be applied to your emails.


People are naturally curious.

In fact, it was Gary Halbert (one of the best copywriters ever), who said that curiosity is THE most powerful trigger that you can apply to your copy. Nothing else even comes close.

If you look at regular newspaper headlines, most of them tell you what’s going on right on the headline. Then, if you’re interested in getting the full story, you read more.

However, by telling people everything in your subject line, there really is no reason for them to open your email. Remember, people are busy and are looking for an excuse not to read what you send them.

With that said, “curiosity-based” is a little vague.

Funny enough, that’s exactly what curiosity-based copy is. It’s copy that’s vague on what’s actually being delivered.

A good example of this is one of my better subject lines, “Apple’s Warning To Email Marketers”.

It’s news-worthy, it’s short, it’s in active-voice, and it gives you just enough to be interesting without giving out the whole form. In fact, if you’re an email marketer, you would kill to know what Apple’s warning is.

That’s the power of curiosity-based subject lines.



At the end of the day, people really only care about themselves. Everything must be focused on their needs, wants, and desires. If they feel like it has nothing to do with them, they just won’t open. I know I wouldn’t.

Heck, I’ve left entire membership sites because I didn’t feel like stuff was applicable to me. The same goes for emails.

When your subscribers read your subject line, you must explicitly or implicitly, hint that reading your email is going to benefit them in some way, shape, or form.

What’s a benefit?

It just answers the questions, “What’s in it for me?”

Now, usually a benefit is going to be direct. For example, “lose 30 pounds in 90 days” or “potentially double your conversions”. Those are benefits. You are telling me that I’m going to get something I want. For this stuff though, I’m using a “looser” definition than usual.

Lets use these 2 examples.

Example #1: Monk’s email secret boosts sales

In this example, you know the email is going to talk about some type of “email secret” that boosts sales. You may not know what it is yet, but it’s definitely going to be there. And if you’re looking to learn more about boosting your sales, you know you’re probably going to want to read this email because it’s telling you that you’re going to learn something.

Example #2: Apple’s warning to email marketers

In this example, things work a little differently. You’re not necessarily going to get “how-to” advice. Instead, you know you’re going to get some kind of news that will probably affect the way you go about your email marketing. Now, while this isn’t an explicit benefit, there is still an implicit benefit because knowing this news will help you during your own email marketing efforts.


If you’ve made it this far, you now have the foundational knowledge to write email subject lines that will stand out and potentially lead to more opens than normal.

Now, while it does take some practice to get this right, it is doable for anyone to do really quickly. In fact, it’ll probably be your favorite part to writing an email.
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Danavir Sarria

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