My name is spelled correctly in my signature block; why do so many people misspell it in the salutation?
Only my good friends call me Bobby – my coworker should have used “Robert” or “Bob” in the salutation.
I hate reading an email that starts with “Good morning” when it is 9 o’clock at night. The writer has just highlighted that I am 12 hours behind in answering my emails.
Unfortunately, the salutation – whether in an email or a letter – provides endless ways to upset your reader, as indicated by the comments above, from participants in my seminars. And if you offend someone in the first line, that person may not read any further.
Effective salutations can help you connect with your reader, which is especially important during a pandemic. Here are suggestions for starting your correspondence without offense:
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. You can also check the "To:" line. Often, people’s first and/or last names are in their addresses.
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 highly 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.
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, / 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.”
In addition to the greeting, pay attention to these points:
–After two or three emails have gone back and forth on the same email string, the salutations can be dropped.
–The punctuation completing the greeting is a comma.
–If more than one person will receive an email, use "Hello Sara and Bill," or "Hello Everyone."
– "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.
–As illustrated in one of the opening quotes, there are people who don’t like receiving an email that starts with “Good morning” or “Good afternoon.” Although I believe this is a minor offense, using “Hello” instead eliminates the possibility of offending anyone.
6. Salutations are required in letters. (Okay, there is one type of letter, the simplified format, that doesn’t require a salutation, but that’s not typical usage. The format is generally used for marketing.) In today’s workplace, a letter is a more formal type of correspondence, and should start with “Dear” followed by either the person’s first name and a colon – “Dear Marie:” – or an honorific and the person’s last name, followed by a colon – “Dear Mr. Jones:”.
Additional information on writing emails can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.
Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business writing, professional presence, business etiquette, and communication. Contact Joyce Hoff at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. (www.pachter.com)