The perfect way to start an email will depend on who you’re writing to, but in general, when you’re writing a business email to someone you don’t know well or at all, they say there’s one safe choice — and a bunch you should usually avoid.
WINNER: ‘Hi [name], …’
If you want to make it a little more formal, you can always use the person’s last name: “Hi Mrs. Smith, …”
“The reason I like this one is that it’s perfectly friendly and innocuous,” says Schwalbe.
It’s also Pachter’s favorite. She says it’s a safe and familiar way to address someone, whether you know them or not.
So when in doubt, go with “Hi.”
This is a good backup to “Hi, [name] …” if you don’t know the recipient’s name. But you should always do whatever you can to find out that information.
This is fine to use with your friends, but the very informal salutation should stay out of the workplace. It’s not professional — especially if you’re writing to someone you’ve never met, says Pachter.
Schwalbe agrees: “I can never get out of my head my grandmother’s admonition ‘Hey is for horses.'”
Also avoid “Hey there.” It tells the person, “I don’t know your name, but if I try to sound cool and casual, maybe you won’t notice.”
‘Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. [last name], …’
The “Dear” family is tricky because it’s not always terrible or wrong to use, but it can sometimes come off as a bit too formal.
‘Dear [first name], …’
Again, it’s not the worst greeting in the world, but it’s a little old-fashioned.
‘Dear friend, …’
“If you don’t know my name, or can’t be bothered to use it, we probably aren’t friends,” says Schwalbe.
Do we really need to explain why this one is a no-no?
‘[Misspelled name], …’
Spell the recipient’s name correctly!
“Many people are insulted if their name is misspelled,” says Pachter. “Check for the correct spelling in the person’s signature block. You can also check the ‘To’ line. Often, people’s first or last names are in their addresses.”
It’s sexist, Pachter says. If you’re addressing a group of people, say, “Hi, everyone.”
You don’t want to be overly enthusiastic. It’s not professional and sets the wrong tone. Plus, it might get under the recipient’s skin.
‘Hi [nickname], …’
Don’t take it upon yourself to call William “Will” or Jennifer “Jen.” Unless the person has introduced themselves using a nickname or uses one in the signature of their own emails, stick to their full name.
This one sounds abrupt.
Again, if you’re writing to a group, use “Hi, everyone.”
‘Mr./Mrs./Ms. [first name], …’
Pachter says that this is how young children address their teachers: “Mrs. Susan, can you help me with this math problem?”
It’s not appropriate in the professional world.
Just to mention a few.