The status of e-mails, at least in the English language, has evolved over the past 15 years.
I remember e-mails from 15 years ago being issued with text message speak and poor or no punctuation. However, today they are a valid form of communication by many in business – equivalent to a letter. Therefore, this has increased the importance of the salutation at the beginning of an e-mail. What kind of tone do you want your e-mail to have? What is the right tone, and does it depend on who you are writing to?
An added difficulty is that there is no style book or rules for salutations at the beginning of e-mails. What I can do for you, though, is tell you about my experiences of using salutations in e-mails – both in the UK and in Germany.
As a result of my use of e-mail in business in the UK and Germany, I have to chosen to start my e-mails with ‘Hello’. Here are my five reasons why:
Five reasons why ‘Hello’ is the best way to start an e-mail
- Not using a salutation could be seen as impolite
In the UK I didn’t use a ‘Dear’, ‘Hi’, or Hello’ – I normally used to start my e-mails only with the person’s name. This seemed to be a perfectly acceptable way in communicating in the UK, and I never had any problems or complaints about the tone of my e-mails. However, when I began to do this in Germany, the feedback I received was that it was too abrupt and impolite. If you receive an e-mail from a British person that just begins with your name, please realise that they are not being rude – it could be, for them, an acceptable way of opening an e-mail.
- ‘Hi’ is too informal
When I worked in Local Government, I once received an e-mail from the head of a small community organisation (who I did not personally know). It started with ‘Hi Chris’ and then followed with a strongly worded e-mail of complaint. This, to me, was confusing. The ‘Hi’ at the beginning of the e-mail was a sign of friendliness and suggested that the rest of the e-mail would be light in substance and give me a good feeling. However, it was the opposite! This is why, ‘Hi’, for me, is not appropriate for business.
- ‘Hey’ is for your friends outside of work
For me, ‘Hey’ is on a level with ‘lol’ and ‘btw’. It’s the kind of language you would use in an SMS or in a Whatsapp message. It is something to use within your circle of friends or amongst teenagers. As they say, hay (hey) is for horses! Using ’Hey’ in an e-mail could therefore be seen as unprofessional.
- ‘Dear’ is too formal – but the greeting for the first email with someone you don’t know
‘Dear’ is a salutation that is used in a letter. When I think of the salutation ‘Dear’, I think of printing and of handwriting. If I received an e-mail with ‘Dear’ from someone I knew, I would think that they are old-fashioned and of ‘a certain age’. Also, using ‘Dear’ when you know someone may be perceived as insincere and distant.
However, there are two situations where I would use ‘Dear’ in an e-mail. I would use it when I am presenting myself to the person for the first time. I would also use ‘Dear’ when I am writing an e-mail of complaint. Note! ‘Dear’ is not a term of affection. This would be ‘my dearest’.
- ‘Hello’ is formal but friendly
‘Hello’ may be considered by other people as being slightly too formal, but that’s why I use it! I think the formality demonstrates professionalism – which is of course important in the business world. ‘Hello’ is friendly, personal but at the same time keeps an element of formality. It won’t make you look old-fashioned, but still shows respect to the person you’re writing to. When writing to a group of people, I use ‘Hello everyone’ rather than ‘Dear all’. Additionally, it is global and easily understood – so it is convenient to use on an international level.
So, how do you start improving your business English?
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