Best Letter and Email Salutations and Greetings

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 23, 2020

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You’ve written a letter or email to a potential employer, and you’re pretty proud of it. Your word choice, structure, and anecdotes work together to create a masterpiece that you’d be proud to send to any CEO.

Even so, all your hard work may be damaged if you misfire with the first words in your message: your greeting or salutation.

It may sound extreme, but the opening line of your email or letter, the part where you were taught in elementary school to say, “Dear Doug,” is vital to creating a positive first impression.

In this article, you’ll learn how to choose the correct salutation for any professional correspondence you may have.

General Guidelines for Choosing Salutations

Good written communication is about making sure your message gets across clearly, and you can’t do this if you leave room for your recipient to misinterpret something you wrote.

You can’t avoid all misunderstandings, but there are ways to cut down on the opportunities for them to happen. Choosing the right salutation is one of these ways, especially since it’s the first thing that your reader will see. As a result, it’s important to choose a greeting that will be appropriate to the recipient, even if you would want to be addressed differently.

Several considerations play into finding the appropriate greeting:

  1. How well you know the recipient. Generally speaking, the better you know a person, the more casual you can be in your greeting and the rest of your message. This might even change from coworker to coworker, depending on your relationship with them.

  2. If you’re sending an email or hard copy letter. While emails can be formal, they’re typically less formal than a written or printed letter. You can use any greeting that’s appropriate for a hard copy letter in an email, but you can’t always put an email-appropriate greeting in a letter.

  3. The purpose of your letter. Your salutation should be appropriate to the rest of your message as well. If you’re writing to schedule a meeting with a colleague, you can be a bit more casual than you would be in a cover letter.

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  4. How much interaction you’ve had in the past. If this is the first time you’ve reached out to the person you’re writing, you should be more formal than you would be in your tenth email with them.

    Or, if you’ve had a previous conversation with them either in person or on the phone, you can usually choose a more informal greeting than you would if your letter was the first interaction you’d had with them.

  5. How they address you. If the person you’re writing to has written to you before, you can simply match the level of formality of their greeting or, better yet, go a touch more formal in your own.

Formal Salutations

These formal salutations are generally acceptable in both letters and emails where you’re wanting to sound especially professional or don’t know the recipient very well.

  • Dear. Probably the most common greeting, “Dear” is an excellent choice for both emails and written letters. Whether you’re writing a cover letter, a resignation letter, or an email to a coworker, as long as you know the recipient’s name, this is a safe neutral.

  • Greetings. This is a good option when you have met the person you’re writing to but don’t know them well or when you don’t know the recipient’s name. It’s a slightly more formal greeting than “hi” or “hello,” making it versatile for both written letters and emails.

  • Good afternoon/evening/morning. These salutations are similar to “Greetings” in formality, but they’re best used for email messages since you can’t guarantee when someone will receive a physical letter or know when you sent it. This is also a good option when you’re emailing a colleague and want to sound friendly yet professional.

  • To whom it may concern. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this greeting, but it’s still useful when you truly cannot find the name of the person you’re addressing. This is especially helpful when you’re writing a cover letter or letter of recommendation, and you have no idea who your letter will be going to but still need to be very professional.

Informal Salutations

While the formal salutations are interchangeable between written letters and emails, for the most part, you should use these informal greetings only in casual email conversations with someone you’ve already established a professional relationship with.

  • Hello. This is the most formal of the informal salutations and can be used with or without a name. It’s also a great option if you’re emailing a group of people and either don’t know their names or can’t reasonably fit them all into the salutation.

  • Hi. A step more casual than “Hello,” “Hi” is best used only with people you know well and have talked to before. It’s best when coupled with a name, but it can be used without one too.

  • Hey. The most informal salutation, you should only use “Hey” to address colleagues you have a strong relationship with. It tends to sound more like a text message than a professional email, so make sure you use this option carefully.

  • No salutation, just a name. Starting a message with just the recipient’s name is efficient. Still, you should use it sparingly since it can sound abrupt or even harsh, especially if you’re trying to establish a relationship over email. It can be useful during longer casual email conversations where the tone has already been established, though.

How to Follow a Salutation

Once you choose the most appropriate salutation, it’s time to decide what should follow it.

Generally, this will be the recipient’s name, but even that brings options with it. No matter what you choose, always double and triple-check that you spelled the name correctly.

  • First name. A good rule of thumb is to use just the person’s first name only when you’re already on a first-name basis with them outside of your correspondence. This is most commonly used in emails rather than in written letters.

  • Last name. Saying “Dear Ms. Haywood” or “Dear Dr. Jacobs” is a classic, safe option, especially when you’re addressing a potential future employer or client and need to be more formal. Make sure you use the proper honorific designation as well.

    1. Use “Ms.” for females. Technically, “Mrs.” is appropriate for married women and “Miss” for single women, but unless you know for sure, “Ms.” is generally the advisable choice to avoid offending anyone.

    2. Use “Mr.” for males. There isn’t really another option for men, so this is generally a safe choice.

    3. Use other titles when applicable. If you know the person has a doctorate education of some kind, use “Dr.” instead of “Ms.” or “Mr.” The same goes for those with military ranks as well. If you aren’t sure about this for the person you’re addressing, though, just stick to the classic “Ms.” and “Mr.”

  • Full name. If you aren’t on a first-name basis with the person you’re addressing and don’t know their gender, simply use both their first and last names. For example: “Dear Jordan Parker.”

  • Generic options. Sometimes you may find yourself addressing your letter to a group of people or an unknown recipient. In this case, there are some more generic options to use.

    If you’re writing to a group of people, you can use “Hello, team,” or “Hi, all.” If there are only three people in the group, though, try to address all of them by saying, “Hi Steve, Mike, and Taylor.”

    When you don’t know who you’re addressing, you can use the person’s title if you have it or simply stick with “Dear Sir or Madam.” This is a good option for highly formal letters that are your first interaction with the person.

Punctuating Salutations

There are two ways to punctuate your salutation: a comma or a colon. Both are acceptable in professional writing, but a colon is the most formal. Generally, you’ll also want to leave a blank line between your salutation and the first line of text.

Here are a few examples of this:

Dear Mr. Wilson:

I’m writing to recommend Wendy Peterson for the position of Junior Accountant.

Hi, Jason,

I hope your week is going well. I wanted to follow up with you on our conversation from earlier.

When to Switch to Less Formal Greetings

Just because you choose one salutation to begin a conversation doesn’t mean you have to stick with it for the rest of the interaction. The more you talk with someone, even if it’s over email, the less formal you need to be. This may look different depending on the conversation topic, though, and remember that a lack of formality isn’t the same thing as a lack of professionality.

For example, you might begin an email conversation with a potential employer with the salutation, “Dear Ms. Caseman,” and then you might move to just “Ms. Caseman” or “Good morning” in your second and third email responses.

If you’re talking with a peer about a project you’re both working on, you might start with “Hello, Bill” and then move to “Hi again, Bill.”

These more extended exchanges are also good opportunities to use the recipient’s response to gauge their communication style and how casual or formal they like to be. Then you can adjust your salutations accordingly.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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