How to Start an Email

How to Start an Email

Emails have become an integral part of our professional lives.

They are one of the best ways to share information within a company. They’re also used for communication between businesses, or between a business and its customers. We rely on them more than phone conversations and other types of correspondence.

In spite of all this, many people are still uncertain about workplace email etiquette. If that’s the case for you, you may want to first figure out how to start an email.

Leaving a Good Impression

The opening lines of your email are like a handshake. They establish communication and grab the attention of the person you are speaking to. If the beginning of your email hits the wrong tone, you may lose the recipient’s attention or leave a bad impression.

It’s especially difficult to decide how to start an email when you don’t know who you’re writing to. But here’s a simple guideline for you to follow.

Leaving a Good Impression

Email Greetings – Do You Need Them?

First, can you ever skip the greeting (or salutation)?

The first time you write to someone about a specific topic, you should definitely begin with a greeting. Whatever the context of your email, this is a basic social nicety that sets the tone for the rest of the correspondence. Skipping it may appear rude.

But once a conversation gets started, you have a bit more leeway. If your emails are less formal, you may skip the greetings within an email thread.

A good rule to follow is to adapt to the person. If you’re writing to a superior, you might want to start every email with a greeting until they stop doing so.

Best Greetings to Use in a Business Context

Let’s look at a few greetings you should consider.

1.     Dear [full name],

This is the most versatile. If you’re not sure how to start an email because you’re uncertain about the proper level of formality, this is the option you should go for.

Instead of using the recipient’s full name, you can also opt for their last name and honorific. But you should only do so if you’re sure of the title. To find out, you can check the way they sign their emails.

You can’t always tell the recipient’s gender from the first name, so go for the full name in case of any uncertainty. Women should be addressed as Ms. [last name] rather than Mrs. or Miss.

2.     Dear [job title],

In cases when you don't know the name of the person you're writing to, you can use their title instead. For example, you can start your email with ”Dear Tech Support Team,” etc.

3.     Greetings,

When you have no idea who you’re writing to, and you want to hit a formal tone, starting your email with “Greetings,” could be the way to go.

4.     Hi [first name],

Here is a breezy and friendly option. It’s usually appropriate when addressing customers. If you work in a relaxed environment, this greeting is the best option for intra-company emails. However, it’s better not to use any nicknames unless you’re absolutely sure the recipient would welcome it.

5.     Hello [first name],

This is slightly more formal than “Hi”. It’s less popular than it used to be, but it’s still unobjectionable. You can leave out the name altogether if you don’t know it.

A Few Greetings to Avoid

A Few Greetings to Avoid

Here are some greetings that may leave a bad impression. While there are some exceptions and cultural differences to take into consideration, it's generally better to look for an alternative.

1.     To Whom it May Concern,

This is a very old-fashioned option. It can make your email seem like a form letter you send out to everyone, and so the recipient will be tempted to skip it

2.     Dear Sir/Ma’am,

Using this greeting puts emphasis on the fact that you don't know anything about the person you are writing to. Use something non-specific like “Hello” or “Greetings”, or try to find out the name of the recipient.

3.     Hey [first name]!

This greeting may be too informal for a business setting. In general, it’s best to end your salutation with a comma rather than an exclamation mark.

First Lines – How to Start an Email Once the Greeting Is Out of the Way

Before you move on to why you’re writing to the recipient, you may need to include some introductory lines. This is especially true if you’re writing a long email.

Note that overly elaborate first lines can be distracting. Here are a few simple ones for use before the body of your email.

  • I hope you’re doing well.
  • Thank you for getting in touch!
  • [So and so] recommended that I write to you.

It’s also a good idea to refer to older correspondences or remind the recipient of where you met. For example, you can say “Thank you for calling me earlier today”, or “I enjoyed talking to you at [event]”.

If you and the recipient have communicated multiple times, it’s also okay to ask how their project is going, etc. When you’re writing to a complete stranger, you may want to use a short introduction as an opening line.

A Final Thought

Deciding how to start an email becomes easier with experience. However, it’s important to remain flexible. Always adjust the tone of the email to the situation. You may want to switch to a less formal greeting once you get to know the person you’re writing to.

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