Tuesday, February 10, 2009

To "dear" or not to "dear" in your email

What salutation should you use to start a business email? 
  • Dear? 
  • Hello? 
  • Something else?
I typically open with the person's name followed by a comma. Like this
Susan,
This is how 95% of my business correspondents start their emails.

Some people use "Dear," then the recipient's name. That's essential for a business letter, but it's too intimate for a business email. At least, that's how it feels to me.

I was surprised to see that the authors of Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better argue for using "dear." They don't like my approach. They say:
For some reason, people who would never in a letter write "Jim" or "Bob" or "Mr. Smith" with no introductory word beforehand feel no hesitation in doing so in an email.... But it strikes us as rude to bark out someone's name like that, even in an email, especially if you don't know your correspondent."
I reserve "Dear" for my correspondence with friends. Or for replies to emails in which I've been addressed as "Dear Susan." I think it's usually appropriate to echo the salutations used by the person with whom you're corresponding.

I don't have strong feelings either way about starting an email with "Hello" and then the name of the recipient. If Allan emails me with "Hello, Susan," I'll "Hello, Allan," back to him.

If you read my "Should you say 'No' to 'Please,' " you're probably not surprised to find me disagreeing with the authors of Send, as did most of the respondents to my reader poll on the use of please in emails.

So, how would you address an email to me? Would you use one of the following salutations?

  • Dear Susan:
  • Dear Ms. Weiner:
  • Hello
  • Hi
  • Hi, Susan
  • Ms. Weiner,
  • Susan,

 
_________________
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
Check out my website at www.InvestmentWriting.com or sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter.
Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

22 comments:

  1. Susan,
    Circumstances should dictate here. I agree with the cited authors when the email is essentially a substitute for snail mail and the content IS a letter.
    When you know your recipient and are in the habit of emailing, then first name followed by a comma makes sense, but typically only on the first email in the chain. Once you begin a conversation, a salutation is unnecessary on the second and subsequent emails within that conversation. A new topic restarts the process, so "Susan," on the first.
    Finally, when you know your recipient but haven't been in contact for awhile, then "Hello, Susan" might be ok, but a warm personal first sentence is likely better insurance against an offended recipient.
    And, of course, improper spelling, sloppy punctuation, and bad grammar show a lack of care and diligence that can't be overcome with the "correct" salutation.

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  2. Paul,

    It's very interesting that you'd omit a salutation after the first email. I'll typically do that only if the other person sets that pattern as part of a rapid exchange. I'll omit my name and "signature" before I'll omit the person's name.

    I completely agree that the right salutation can't overcome a poorly written email.

    Thank you for commenting!

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  3. Susan,
    My boss uses Dear Recipient, in every email and it drives me crazy. I was looking for some good evidence to anonymously email him to make him stop. Your points are all good but not conclusive enough based on your reference to "Send:". I will stick with just Susan, thanks!
    Marc

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  4. Marc,

    You may enjoy the blog post at http://investmentwriting.blogspot.com/2008/08/stop-sending-dear-valued-client-emails.html because it makes a case for using the recipients' names.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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  5. Some points about email: I construe that the reason people started letters with "Dear X" was because if a letter arrived at a residential address (say), you would never know whom it is for, without the salutation. Similarly, the reader would not know who it was from without the "Yours ***y, Writer". I am strongly against short forms and informal language, but I believe we should be allowed to bend a few rules w.r.t. salutations in emails. For example, if an email exchange went up to more than 2 emails, it is unnecessary to say "Dear X" each time.

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  6. Now, I have a question for you. I am a graduate student; If I were writing to a professor unknown to me, hoping to establish contact (say), do you think starting with "Dear Prof. XXX" is appropriate? Also, is there any distinction between American and British usage?

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  7. Finally, thank you for your post. Well written.

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  8. Dear Ms. Weiner

    I personally cringe when I receive an email beginning with just my name. How is it respectful? In contrast, an email addressed with "Dear ..." or "Hello ..." always has a hint of true lady or gentleman. Someone who is caring, kind, and knows how to respect people.

    Whenever we refer to someone by their name, we are only calling their attention, not greeting them. It is very informal and rude to not greet someone properly when communicating with them. Someone's name alone is only one step up from "Hey" and "Yo". Is the email addressed for an old college buddy, or your boss? It's not good to lack respect when dealing with people in formal situations.

    I would argue that while "Dear ..." is acceptable for formal requests and formal emails, such as to a professor who you barely know. "Hello" or "Hi" will do just fine for those co-workers you deal with on a day to day basis. Unless you want to end up being the talk of the coffee table.

    For formal situations your email will likely be read more like a letter, so "Dear" is better. It's not too intimate, as people have for many years used "Dear ..." and "Sincerely," to address letters to absolute strangers.

    For informal situations, your email will likely be read more like a conversation. A good example would be sending a co-worker an email to let them know that you have completed some task on a project. I doubt you would have sent a letter to say that in the past. Most likely 50 years ago, you would have told them orally. Therefore, a logical choice for such informal emails would be "Hello ...".

    Perhaps some may disagree on how to address an email; however, we are constantly judged by our behaviour within society. I believe "you get more flies with sugar than vinegar"; the best way to get ahead and make a difference is start with a good impression, and there's no better way to start making a good impression than with the proper use of a respectful greeting.

    Sincerely,

    Graham

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  9. Hi Susan,

    I agree with Graham. I always start an email with a salutation. Personally, I think it can sound rude or demeaning if one doesn't. This might depend on the relationship between the parties.

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  10. Susan,

    My boss does this "Dear xxxx" nonsense regularly on e-mails that are sent to those above him within the organization ranks. It drives me insane! I am okay with starting with "Hello" or "Hi," but "Dear" just sounds hokey. Not to mention, he only uses is when e-mailing UP the corporate org chart which gives me the impression that his "Dear xxxx" e-mails are nothing short of sucking up.

    I am 31, e-mail has been a part of my daily life since I was in high school. Throughout my academic and professional career, my current boss (oh, and his boss as well) is the only time I have ever encountered anyone that starts their e-mails this way.

    Justin

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  11. I googled this question of "is dear appropriate in emails" and was directed to this blog. Notice that I do not have a salutation in from of this post? Seems kind of harsh, doesn't it.

    I noticed however, that in reading through the replies...I did not notice the openings of "Susan" or "Hi Susan" or "Dear Ms. Weiner", Paul ect., until I got to the bottom and began to write a comment. I had to go back up through the posts to see what people wrote. Not sure what this means in coming up with the proper way to address an email....maybe it really doesnt matter, as long as the email is written well, and the proper ending is used...??

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  12. I can't stand the "Dear" emails - they drive me crazy!

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    Replies
    1. Dear Anonymous!
      It couldn't be!

      Delete
  13. They drive me crazy too. I recently joined a manufacturing concern and people at all level specially in HR write dear in their day to day communication with the emPloyees. I have built a new team and most of my team members are taking it as the culture of the organisation and use dear in each & every email. Not sure how to tell and change it.

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  14. I don't feel comfortable writing "Dear" because the salutation is too intimate. I would address you as Susan B. Weiner or Susan Weiner. After awhile, I would likely drop the last name and just call you Susan.

    Ideally, there would be a salutation that is less personal than Dear, yet still friendly. (Offhand, I can't think of any.)

    ---
    Do you know of a good salutation to use when leaving a message in an on-line form to a business when you don't have any names?

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  15. Dear Susan,

    I totally agree with Graham in using 'Dear' as salutation. People nowadays tend to be harsh and rude more than ever. Why shouldn't we preserve one of the good values to make the world a better place to live?

    Regards,

    Sakda

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  16. ... because it's fake? If people aren't official and proper to your face then they shouldn't be in an email. Drives me batty when my work colleagues address me as 'Dear' for every little thing when face to face we're happy to communicate like colleagues rather than strangers.

    Annoying.

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  17. the solution is to copy email format,
    instead of Dear Mr ..etc..

    you begin with

    To Mr. etc.,

    With....

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  18. Using Dear Susan," I think is not bad, however, if I start with my boss' name without using dear then he/she will find it offensive. I assure you, that I am used to writing dear in each and every email (friendly or business) as we are used to it. However, with my friends I can use their first names without saying "dear".
    But... concerning my boss? Oh ho ho ho noway. I am sure if I do it, I will guarantee to lose my job the very minute he receives my email.

    Anyway, thank you for your blog and kindly give me an alternative other than using dear (if you find it this personal to use the word = dear).

    Thank you

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  19. Sarah,
    Thank you for your comment. These days, many people use "Hi" instead of "Dear."

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  20. Thank you Susan for caring to reply. In our country Egypt, using Hi (name) to a boss is considered offensive. and would be considered as informal too. As I mentioned earlier, a single word may cause my boss' anger. That's why I always dear. However, I'll go by your tip with my personal correspondence. That might work.

    Thank you again Susan

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  21. You're welcome, Sarah. It's smart to be aware of cultural differences when choosing your greetings.

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