Is the title of this blog a true or false statement?
If you said “true,” you are correct. Email doesn’t technically require a salutation as it is considered to be memo format. (This is different from a business letter, which does require a salutation.)
When email first appeared, many people did not use salutations. Eventually, people started adding salutations to seem friendlier, and to soften the tone of their writings.
Although salutations are not required, they are highly recommended. This is especially true when you are writing an email to someone for the first time, writing the first email in what is likely to become a string, or dealing with a difficult or awkward situation.
But how should you address the person to whom you are writing? Since you don’t want to offend someone with your choice of salutation, here are five suggestions:
1. Spell the recipient’s name correctly. Let me repeat this: 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 email 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, Jacob”) unless you know it is okay to use the shortened version (Jake). My name is Barbara, but please don’t start your emails to me using “Hi Barb.” (And the only people who may refer to me as Babz are my son and his friends!)
3. Know when to stop using a salutation. After two or three emails have gone back and forth on the same email string, the salutations can be dropped.
4. Use a greeting. 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 format:
Hi Anna, / 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.”
Hey is a very informal salutation (“Hey Josh,”), 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.
5. 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?
Additional information on business writing and emails can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.
Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business writing, communication, presentation skills and etiquette. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at email@example.com or 856.751.6141. (www.pachter.com)