Writing a business email to an individual or to a group can sometimes be intimidating.

For some, “Dear Sir/Madame” seems to be too formal and stuffy. “Hey” is for horses. “Good morning/afternoon” is nice and welcoming, but will the email be read during those times? And you may find yourself completely indifferent when receiving an email that begins with “To whom it may concern.”

Without question, email communication is more informal.

When writing for business, email salutations will vary depending on the relationship you have with your audience. The rule of thumb when writing an email for business purposes is that the very first email should be communicated in a more formal tone and structured as if written on company letterhead. Once that reply button is pressed, a conversation has begun.

Opening Salutations

How well do you know the person/people you are addressing?  Even if it is feels odd to initially start an email with “Mr./Mrs./Ms.” followed by their last name, this form of address remains the recommended format. When or if the contact gives permission to be on a first name basis, a more informal approach may be taken. A clue will usually be provided by how the recipient signs-off at the end of their reply.

Here are a few practical email openers

If on a first name basis with the recipient(s), it is important to take into consideration how many people will be in the email chain:

  1. When emailing one person, it is perfectly acceptable to use the following (i.e. Dear/Hi Beth)
  2. If two or three people are addressed in an email, stating each of their names is perfectly acceptable: (i.e. Dear/Hello Ellen, Scott, and Drew)
  3. When an email is sent to a larger group of four or more, consider the following salutations:
    • Dear Colleagues
    • Dear Team
    • Dear all
    • Hi, everyone

Once the email “thread” of replies begins, it will no longer be necessary to keep writing the person’s name for every response.

What you may not know…

Using “Mr./Miss” with a first name (i.e. Miss Diane) is never acceptable for business; either written or when spoken.  Other salutation don’ts includes:  Hey there, Hey Ya’ll, Yo, Howdy, Ladies and Gents and Wuz up!  You get the idea…

Pro Tips:

Situation #1 – If you meet someone that is your professional peer, it is permissible to use their first name in an email.

  • Example Salutation: Dear Kevin

Situation #2 – You have just met an executive and don’t feel comfortable using their first name in an email. While not seen often, it is acceptable to write the person’s first and last name in your salutation.

  • Example Salutation: Dear Mary Williams
  • Note: Most likely, Mary Williams will provide you with a clue in her reply. If she responds using your first name, it is a signal that you are on a first name basis. However, if she does not, you should refer to her by her last name only.
  • Example Salutation: Dear Ms. Williams

Stay tuned…Next week, we’ll share the best way to end a business email and block signatures.