Email is one of the most common communication methods for businesses and individuals, with an estimated 306.4 billion sent daily in 2020. There aren’t many rules for digital communication with friends and family members, but business email has its own etiquette. When you choose a professional salutation for work email you connect with the recipient and create an atmosphere of respect and collaboration for the rest of your message.
Which Part is the Salutation Again?
A salutation is a few words of greeting or acknowledgment. At the very beginning of an email or letter, it’s customary to address the recipient with a formal or informal hello. You might start a work email with “Dear Dr. Brown,” or “Hi Sharon,” depending on the purpose of the email and your relationship with the recipient.
Do Salutations Really Still Matter?
Digital communication strips away body language, tone and other clues that let others know what you’re thinking and feeling. A professional salutation starts your email off with an attitude of respect, friendliness or approachability, depending on the words you choose. Keeping that in mind, here are a few reasons salutations are still a pretty big deal.
- Professional salutations make good first Impressions. The salutation of your work email sets the tone for the rest of the email, and it lets the reader know how you feel about them.
- Your salutation is part of personal branding – When you start every work email you send with a professional salutation, you establish yourself as someone who is competent and polished.
- Professional salutations establish connections – The wrong email salutation can alienate the reader. No salutation at all seems impersonal. A professional salutation connects with the intended recipient and encourages them to read the rest of your message.
Choosing an Appropriate Email Salutation
The right salutation depends on your relationship with the person you’re emailing. If you’re contacting a co-worker with whom you have a strong, positive relationship, someone who knows your kids’ names and where you went on your last vacation, you don’t need to be as formal as you would writing your boss or a new contact.
The less you know someone, the more formal should be your salutation. If you’ve never met a client, potential partner, company representative, department head or other contact, choose a more formal salutation.
Best Salutations for Work
If you’re writing an individual, it’s always best to use their name in the salutation. Here are a few of the best choices, going from most to least formal.
- Dear Mr. Jones – Use “Dear” with a last name when you’re emailing someone you don’t know very well or a senior staff member. If you’re writing a woman and you don’t know whether or not she’s married, use “Ms.” Instead of “Mrs.” or “Miss.” If the recipient has a title, use it. In very formal situations, follow your salutation with a colon instead of a comma. For example, “Dear Professor Roberts:”
- Dear Steven – The salutation “Dear” with a first name works in almost any situation if you know the person and are on a similar level, or if they have encouraged you to address them by their first name. Don’t shorten first names unless they tell you to. In other words, don’t address Steven as Steve or Jennifer as Jenny unless they’ve indicated that’s the name they prefer.
- Greetings – This salutation is friendly but still more formal than just saying hello. It’s an acceptable choice if you’re emailing someone you don’t know very well or cold contacting a potential client.
- Hi Meredith – If “Dear” feels too formal, “Hi” or “Hello” is acceptable.
Business Email Salutations to Avoid
Stay away from overly casual salutations like “Hey,” “Yo,” “What’s Up,” or anything that ends in an emoji or exclamation point. It’s also a good idea to avoid impersonal salutations like “To Whom It May Concern,” “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” Those greetings sound stiff, and they also give the impression you didn’t care enough to find the intended recipient’s name.
Should You Always Use Salutations in Work Email?
It’s never going to leave a bad impression to use a professional salutation for work email because a greeting always adds warmth and personalizes your message. However, there are times you can leave it off.
If you’re having a dialogue and exchange emails back and forth along the same thread and the other person drops the salutation or greeting from their email, sometimes it’s acceptable to leave yours off as well. Err on the side of caution if you’re writing clients, administrators or senior staff members.
For more on professional communication, check out our article 5 Email Etiquette Rules Every Employee Should Know. We also provide resume writing tips, interview tips and dress code guidelines on our Resources page.