My colleague started one of his emails “Happy Monday to all!!!” He must have had too much caffeine that morning.
Only my good friends call me Bobby – my coworker should use “Robert” or “Bob” in the salutation.
Unfortunately, the salutation on emails provides endless ways to upset your reader, as indicated by the comments above from participants in my writing seminars. And, if you offend someone in the first line, that person may not read any further.
Here are suggestions from my upcoming book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes, on how to start your emails without giving offense:
1. Spell the recipient’s name correctly. It may not bother you, but I want to impress upon you that many people are insulted if their name is misspelled. Check for the correct spelling in the person’s signature block. Copy and paste the name to make sure you are spelling it correctly. Checking the “To:” line is also a good idea, as people’s first and/or last names are often in their addresses.
2. Don’t shorten a person’s name or use a nickname unless you know it is okay. Use the person’s full name (Hi Susan) unless you know it is okay to use the shorter version (Sue).
3. Avoid “Dear Sir/Ms." This salutation tells your reader that you have no idea who that person is. Why then should the reader be interested in what you have to say?
4. Use a non-gender-specific, non-sexist term if you don’t know the person’s name. You can use Dear Client, Customer, or Team Member. You can also use Representative, and add it to any company name or department name, such as “Dear Microsoft Representative,” or “Dear Human Resource Representative.”
5. Salutations are recommended in emails. Email doesn’t technically require a salutation as it’s considered to be memo format. When email first appeared, many people did not use salutations. Eventually, people starting adding salutations to appear friendlier and to soften the tone of their writings. (After two or three emails have gone back and forth on the same email string, the salutations can be dropped.)
There is a hierarchy of greetings, from informal to formal, and you should match the salutation to the relationship you have with the recipient. The hierarchy follows this general format:
Hi, / Hi Anna, / Hello, / Hello Julianna, / Dear Justin, / Dear Mr. Jones,
If the person you are writing to is a colleague, “Hi Anna,” should be fine. If you don’t know the person, or the person has significantly higher rank than you have, you may want to use the more formal greeting: “Dear Justin,” or “Dear Mr. Jones.”
6. Be cautious with the use of Hey. Hey is a very informal salutation (Hey Daniel,) and generally should not be used in the workplace. Opening with Yo is definitely not okay, no matter how informal your relationship with the recipient. Use Hi or Hello instead.
Additional information on salutations, emails and business writing can be found in The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes – available in bookstores in December. You can preorder you copy now.