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Karen Martin and Beverley Ireland-Symonds promote the value of having effective communication skills for individuals, teams and organisations.
Monday, 31 January 2011

Are your business e-mails professional enough?

I’ve read lots of blogs and articles recently debating whether or not business e-mails should open with ‘Dear’, ‘Hello’, or ‘Hi’, and I’ve noticed fewer people in the UK using ‘Dear’ over the last year or so.

I’ve read with interest when people argued that ‘Dear’ is too old-fashioned or stuffy and there is no place for it in today’s business world, but is this really true? I believe there is a time and place for all of the above salutations depending on the situation and the recipient.

I’ve been corresponding by e-mail with organisations in other countries over the last year and they have all used a formal structure for business e-mails – starting an e-mail with ‘Hi’ wouldn’t have been appropriate. However, if I’m e-mailing someone I’ve met at a networking event, I usually open with ‘Hello’ as I’ve already started building a relationship with this person.

Tips for Writing a Business E-mail

  • Think about who you are writing to: Sounds obvious, but people often use a standard opening regardless of the recipient and/or the culture. Sometimes ‘Dear’ will be suitable, sometimes ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ will be suitable – take a few seconds to think which one would be most appropriate.

  • Use an opening greeting: You wouldn’t walk into a meeting and get straight down to business without saying hello, so don’t do this in a business email. Some e-mails have become so informal that they go straight into the message without any opening greeting – this can come across as rude.

  • Avoid your messages being ignored: Include a clear subject line or your email could end up in the junk mail folder. Make sure the subject line matches your message - people often send e-mails backwards and forwards without changing the subject line.

  • Don’t write in capitals: It’s very easy for e-mails to be misinterpreted, so avoid giving the wrong message to the recipient. Avoid writing in capitals and using exclamation marks as this can give your message a more aggressive tone.

  • Check your email before you send it: Sending out an e-mail full of spelling or grammar mistakes isn’t going to present a very professional image of your company. Also, make sure your message makes sense once you’ve written it – get a colleague to read it through if necessary. It’s worth a few minutes of someone’s time if it avoids inappropriate messages being sent out.