What works in one language doesn't always work in another. This is especially true when it comes to writing English emails (or letters). Read on to discover how to start and end your professional emails in English.
Let's start with the greeting. Do we write 'hello', 'hi', 'dear', or something else?
It all depends on who you're writing to and how formal your communication needs to be. Just as when speaking to someone in person, you'll write more formally with people you don't know very well and more casually with people you have a close relationship with.
Here's a very simple guide:
a) every word begins with a capital (big) letter
b) most greetings end with a comma ( , )
c) 'To Whom It May Concern' ends with a colon ( : ).
Group A includes greetings for people whose names you don't know, where:
- 'Sir' is for men
- 'Madam' is for women
- 'Sir/Madam' is for when you don't know the person's gender
- 'To Whom It May Concern' is a traditional business greeting that you should try to avoid if you can as it can be seen as old-fashioned or lazy (because nowadays, how hard is it really to find out someone's name?). It's still acceptable in some situations, like writing a professional reference letter.
In Group B, we know the person's surname (family name) and possibly also their first (given) name.
- Use 'Mr.' or 'Mr' with men and 'Ms.' or 'Ms' with women
- After 'Mr' or 'Ms', use the person's surname (family name)
- If you're using the person's full name, start with their given name and end with their surname.
This kind of greeting is suitable for many situations, such as writing to clients, customers or business associates, especially if we don't meet or contact them frequently.
Group C and Group D greetings become more likely as our relationship gets closer with the person we're writing to.
- Employee to employee - It's common to use either 'Dear' or 'Hi' when writing internal emails to colleagues. The one you choose may depend on the culture of the company and how often you meet or contact this person. It can even be common to see 'Hi' greetings in an employee-manager relationship if they often meet each other.
- Employee to client - When communicating with external clients and associates, it's common to use the 'Dear Mr/Ms X' greeting when your relationship is fairly new or the relationship is of a very professional nature (for example, a legal representative). For some people, if the relationship lasts a lot longer over several meetings, the greeting may soon change to one from Group C or Group D.
- Employee to customer - In marketing communications these days, group C and D greetings are becoming more and more popular. Even though we may not have a truly close relationship with the customer, the use of casual greetings can feel warmer and help encourage a closer relationship.
Email sign offs
While it's important to start your email correctly, it's just as important to end your email with the right sign off.
In English, the way you sign off (end your email) also depends on how formal the email is.
Generally, if you're not sure which one to use then go for any sign off from Group B or Group C.
If you're interested in developing your English skills further, you may want to consider taking a course. In our next article, 'What Kind of Course is Right for Me?', we help you understand all of the different options available for you.