You might not think that how to start an email matters, but your salutation sets the tone for the rest of the message and also impacts the receiver’s impression of you. Which greetings are fine to use, and which are to be avoided at all costs, is the subject of much debate. Should you use “Hi”, “Dear”, or go right for the casual approach with “Wassup”?
A lot depends on who you are sending the email to, and for what purpose. You might use “Wassup” for friends (maybe?), but you definitely shouldn’t use it when sending off your CV to the manager of a company.
Choosing the correct salutation is not always straightforward, but there are safe options which you can use at any time, as well as variations that are useful in certain situations. Without further ado, let’s delve into the world of the email greeting.
How to start an email
Although the world of email greetings can get confusing, thankfully there is one overall winner that you can use nearly every time you send an email. It might not always be optimal for every situation, but it’s never going to get you in trouble, and most of the time it’s the best choice:
- Hi (Name), – Saying “Hi Gemma” is simple, friendly and direct, and is pretty much universally acceptable for business communications. Using the person’s name gives a more personalised feel. The first name is enough for most emails, whereas using the last name adds formality, as in “Hi Ms. Jones”.
Aside from “Hi (Name),” there are several other email greetings that can be useful in the right situations. Use them wisely!
- Hello (Name), – This is similar to saying “Hi”, but slightly more formal. Be a little more careful using this one, as it can stand out and come across obtrusively.
- Dear (Name), – Saying “Dear” is too formal for standard business emails between colleagues, but it is useful to denote formality and respect when emailing people in high positions, or when sending formal business applications and resumes. In this case, use the title and last name, such as “Dear Professor Green” or “Dear Mr. Flask”.
- Hi there, – When you don’t know a person’s name, and there’s absolutely no way to find out, you will have to use an anonymous greeting. “Hi there,” is widely accepted as the best opener for this particular situation. It is also useful for mass emails or mail merging, though it’s worth remembering that using someone’s name is always better.
- Hi everyone, – This is a straightforward yet polite email greeting for addressing a group. It is gender neutral, as opposed to “Hi ladies” or “Hi gentlemen”, and it is less abrupt than saying “Hi all”.
Mistakes To Avoid
You won’t go far wrong with the greetings that we have described above. There’s a time and a place for each of them, but generally none of them will cause problems. Next, we are going to cover common mistakes that you should avoid. Around 2/3 people have received an email that has made them confused or angry, and inappropriate greetings are just one of the ways you can cause offence.
- The Overly Casual – This is one way to give off the wrong impression quickly. “Yo”, “Wassup” and “Hey y’all” should not be used in work emails. Even “Hey” should only be used when you are already on casual terms with the recipient. You should also avoid using nicknames or shortened names, unless the recipient has already used them to sign off.
- The Overly Formal – On the other end of the spectrum are the overly formal greetings such as “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern”. Both are too stiff and set an intense tone that suggests a complaint or bad news. Both also happen to be completely impersonal.
- The Overly Enthusiastic – It’s an email, not a birthday message to a friend. Leave the twenty exclamation marks at the door, and don’t open your email with “Happy Friday!”. Believe it or not, the over-positive tone can actually come across in many negative ways, such as fake, needy or insulting.
- The Inaccurate – The worst offence here is to misspell a person’s name, or to use an inappropriate title, such as an implied marital status like “Mrs”. Research and double-check the name, or if you can’t be sure then it’s better to use an impersonal opening than to make a mistake.
Do You Really Need A Salutation?
You nearly always need to start your emails with a salutation, especially if the message is the first in an exchange. To not do so is generally considered very unprofessional. There are exceptions to this rule. If you know a person very well then they will not be offended if you jump right in with the point.
Also, if you are emailing a colleague in a multi-message exchange, you do not always need to start every single reply with “Hi James”, though again leaving it out can be risky. If you are certain that an individual doesn’t mind living without the pleasantries, go for it, otherwise it’s best to include them.
Given the importance of the salutation for the overall tone and professionalism of your email, it’s crucial that you get it right. Follow this guide and you definitely won’t offend anyone!