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How to Start an Email: 4 Ways to Start and 6 Things to Avoid

If you want to capture an email recipient’s attention, you need a great salutation and opening sentence. Here are the best (and worst) ways to start an email.

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How to Start an Email 4 Ways to Start and 6 Things to Avoid

Alongside social media and texting, emails are a leading way for people to communicate for personal reasons, school, work, and more. According to Statista, about 333.2 billion emails were sent and received worldwide each day in 2022. 

Despite this, not everyone understands if there’s a proper structure to an email, and if it even matters. Some people write based on how they speak, while others adhere to a style that was taught to them or that they learned along the way. 

The question comes, then: how should you write an email, and is it important to bother with a format, particular greeting, or opening style? The answer is yes. Here’s why:

Why The Start of an Email is So Important

The salutation (or initial greeting) and opening sentence of your email are just as important as the contents of the email itself. The start of an email is where the sender establishes their social and professional identity, as well as their relationship to the recipient. 

In professional and academic settings, these are highly valuable points to establish. That’s because the quality and appropriateness of the greeting can even affect the continued relationship between sender and recipient.

For example, a study from Communication Education found that teachers were less likely to agree to meet face-to-face with students who sent casual, low-quality emails.

With that in mind, the greeting and opening sentences will set the tone for the rest of the email. As such, you’ll need to choose your words carefully. The right words can help you present yourself as:

  • Professional
  • Capable
  • Knowledgeable
  • Experienced
  • Respectable
  • Polite
  • Trustworthy

To choose the start for your email, let’s go over the best ways that you can greet a recipient (or recipients) in an email.

4 Greetings to Start Your Emails With

The proper email greeting will make the recipient more likely to read the email, consider the content, and reply. Addressing them incorrectly isn’t a good way to start a professional interaction, so here are classic, fool-proof salutations to use:

1. Dear [Name]

The use of “dear” as a greeting in letters has been around for over 400 years — and for good reason. It’s one of the simplest ways to address someone professionally without being overly formal. As a timeless greeting that’s so standard, few people think twice about seeing it as a salutation, regardless of the intent of the email.

No matter the familiarity between sender and recipient, “dear” can be used in:

  • Business letters
  • Cover letters
  • Academic letters
  • Invitation letters
  • Query letters
  • Sales letters
  • Letters of resignation
  • Thank-you letters
  • Letters of recommendation

You can pair the word “dear” with the recipient’s last name if you also use an honorific. For example, a male-identifying recipient should be addressed as “Mr. Smith” or “Mr. Johnson.” Avoid using “Ms.” or “Mrs.” for a female-identifying recipient, unless you are 100% certain about their marital status and how they prefer to be called. Otherwise, just use “Dear + Name”

If the recipient can be referred to by a title related to their profession, such as “Dr.” or “Professor,” use that instead of a standard honorific.

You can use a recipient’s full name if you don’t want to use any gendered language, want to use a more formal greeting, or if you’re simply unsure about how the recipient likes to be addressed.

2. Greetings or Salutations

The use of “Greetings” or “Salutations” is a popular way of saluting a group of people in an email. This is great for mass emails being sent to too many people to address them individually.

When using “Greetings” or “Salutations,” you don’t need to use anyone’s name afterward. Doing so is non-standard and may be seen as odd or overly formal. The common rule of thumb is to not fix what isn’t broken and instead stick to conventional email etiquette, especially for professional emails.

3. Hi or Hello

A simple “Hi” or “Hello” is a perfectly good greeting for more casual emails. They aren’t regularly used in business emails about serious topics, but they’re still acceptable to use when addressing minor, work-related topics or a coworker with a lower rank than you.

For example, if you’re a supervisor at a company and you want to quickly check in to see if an employee finished a task, you can use the “Hello” greeting in the email.

Likewise, if you have a familiar relationship with a coworker, business partner, or professor, you can use these greetings in the email. However, if they rank higher than you, you should probably wait for them to use “Hi” or “Hello” as greetings first. As the senior in the relationship, you should let them decide how casual the emails between the two of you can be.

You can use the recipient’s first name when applying either of these greetings, but don’t use their full name. Using someone’s full name in a greeting is considered to be very formal. Pairing a formal way of addressing someone with a more casual “Hi” or “Hello” creates an unorthodox greeting that may raise some eyebrows.

4. Hello [Team/Everyone]

Another way to address multiple recipients is by saying “Hello team/everyone/department-name/team-name”. It’s a lot more casual and friendly than “Greetings” or “Salutations,” so you can use it if your work or study environment encourages openness between its members.

6 Email Greetings to Avoid

Here are a couple of email greetings you should avoid when thinking about how to start an email:

1. Dear/Hello [Job Title]

Opening with this greeting isn’t advised, because referring to somebody by their job title when you have the option to refer to them by their name is seen as too detached. It also implies that you didn’t put any effort into knowing who you are sending your email to, which is an implication you want to avoid as much as possible.

2. Good morning/afternoon/evening

Avoid referring to the recipient’s time zone. Even if you know their time zone, you don’t know when they will open the email, so the greeting will be out of place.

The only exception is when a higher-up at a company sends an email during work hours. It is assumed that the email will be seen and opened as soon as possible, so the greeting is appropriate.

3. To whom it may concern

Similar to addressing the recipient by their job title, saying “To whom it may concern” indicates that you didn’t look into who the email is going to. It may sound like a good way to start an email, but it’s just a formal way of saying “To whoever cares to read this.”

This kind of greeting was commonly used in letters, and you may still find that some advocate for its use, but it’s being phased out as an email greeting. Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to find out what a working professional’s name is. 

With no reference to any department or person, a “To whom it may concern” greeting sounds like you don’t care whether or not the email gets read by the right person. Some institutions might still use it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and forego this greeting.

4. Hey or What’s up

Using “Hey,” “What’s up,” or similar greetings are too informal to send in a professional email, because it’s the kind of language you only use with peers. 

Even if you do have that kind of relationship with someone you work or study with, avoid using such greetings in emails. While using a company computer or internal messaging software, your employers may want you to maintain a higher level of professionalism within work, and your emails need to reflect that.

5. Just the name

When sending an email, don’t start it by using the recipient’s name and nothing more. The goal of an email greeting isn’t just to address the recipient, but to also set the tone of the email. 

Plus, it’s just standard social etiquette to greet someone when you begin an interaction. Imagine if people just said each other’s names upon seeing each other without a friendly “Hello” first. Without that tone-setter, the beginning of the email sounds cold, robotic, and impolite.

6. Hello [Gendered Term]

If you choose to start your group email with a “Hello,” followed by a group term, avoid gendered language, especially when addressing a team you don’t know. For example, don’t use any of the following greetings:

  • Hello gentlemen
  • Hello ladies
  • Hello guys
  • Hello gals

Addressing a group with gendered language may not represent the group accurately. Even if it does, this isn’t considered professional. Instead, use a non-gendered greeting like “Hello team” or “Hello everyone.”

Opening Lines for a Professional Email

Once you’ve chosen the greeting for your email, you need to write a compelling opening line. The opening line will prompt the recipient to read the rest of your email. It can also serve as an introduction, if the recipient doesn’t know who you are.

The type of opening line you use will depend on the purpose of the email. Here are a few you can consider:

Introductory opening line

You can start your email by introducing yourself and your role or profession. If you have a connection to the recipient and you think that will be useful in catching their attention, mention it. For example:

Hello John,

As the head of key animation, I wanted to know if we could have a one-on-one meeting to discuss the studio’s latest decision to switch from Adobe Animate to Toon Boom…

You want to introduce yourself when your role, responsibilities, profession, or identity are relevant to the topic of the email. Don’t make your introduction too long, however. If they don’t know you, they’ll want you to get to the point as quickly as possible, so your introduction should be no longer than a sentence or two.

I’m reaching out to/about...

If you want to get straight to the point, starting with “I’m reaching out to/about…” is always a safe bet. Alternatively, you can say “I’m writing to/about…” and then state the purpose of the email. This opening line is often used in busy, professional settings because it wastes no time.

I hope you’re having a great day/week

This is a more casual opening line you can use for emailing colleagues, teachers, mentors, and anyone else you have some sort of established relationship with. It’s polite and friendly, and you can dive right into the reason for the email after. Alternatively, you can say “I hope this finds you well.”

Thank you for...

In thank-you emails or replies, you can thank the recipient for getting in touch with you, completing a request, or meeting with you in previous encounters. If the email isn’t about how grateful you are to them, don’t go beyond a simple thank you, especially in formal emails. Any other phrases of gratitude may be seen as filler or overly personal.

Extra Tips on How to Start an Email

In addition to the helpful guidelines above, these tips can help improve your email openings:

  • Consider the kind of culture you and the recipient exist in before sending an email: For example, a study from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication showed how a company with an open, friendly culture is more likely to use email greetings, particularly those using the recipient’s first name. Taking the company culture into account will help you decide the level of formality in the email, especially if it’s your first time emailing the recipient.
  • Don’t mention any specific holidays in your greetings: Unless you know which holidays the recipient celebrates, avoid wishing them a Merry Christmas or making references to holidays related to religion. However, you can be vague and wish the recipient a happy holiday season or make a reference to it, especially since it’s such a busy time for businesses, regardless of what people celebrate.
  • Do your best to find out the recipient’s name: This is especially important if you need to make a good first impression, like in the case of a job application. If you do find a name, always double check that you’ve written it correctly in the email. If you’ve done all you can, but can’t find a name, you can use “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam,” although they are considered to be very formal.

With these points in mind, you can pick the greetings, openings, and styles that can best suit your emails. By doing so, you can craft better, more accurate emails that project the information and tone you’re after.

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