Hello-Goodbye Email Etiquette: Adapting Traditional Writing Skills to E-Correspondence

In high school I was taught letter-writing that started with an appropriate greeting (“Dear … “) and ended with an appropriate close (“Yours truly”). As a result, my emails typically consist of the greeting “Hi [name]” and my close is “Take care.” In successive emails – multiple correspondence with the same person – it’s become unnecessary to repeat the greeting and close. It’s also expedient and more efficient to omit these two items in emails sent from smart-phones and mobile devices where brevity is necessary.

Still I struggle with this as I tend to include a greeting and close in almost all my emails: 1) mostly out of habit, and 2) because my mother was an English teacher. I’m trying to break this habit by only using the greeting and close in my initial email and not in follow-up emails to the same person or group of people. (Frankly, I don’t like receiving an initial email correspondence without an appropriate greeting and close; expediency does not excuse a lack of courtesy.)

I’ve noticed little consistency in the emails I receive, so I asked several colleagues what they do when writing e-mails. Here are their responses:

This is tough for me to break, too, so here’s how I think about it: Any same day conversation gets one time where I address the other person, and then all day long, I think the other person “knows” I’m talking to them in my e-mail, so I don’t repeat my name, or my close. I think of it as a conversation where I wouldn’t say “Hi Sybil” every time it was my turn to talk, or “Goodbye Sybil” every time I was done talking. The next day, I’ll use it again as it’s like a new conversation to me. Phil Gerbyshak, chief connections officer.

Like you, I tend to be ‘old school,’ treating each email as it own unique message. If, however, I know there will be a ‘back and forth’ within a short period of time, I might forgo the greeting and close. I think a lot of the etiquette issues are really about the people with whom we’re emailing. Whenever I’m emailing a client or even a social media connection, I have a greeting and a close. It’s pretty much only with long time personal friends that I drop those formalities. Dawn Lennon, career strategist, coach and mentor.

Great question. My answer won’t offer much relief, though. Disclaimer: I’m an art major, too. I use email to interact with such a broad range of connections, from close friends to total strangers. I have no hard and fast rules, except to personalize it for that level of connection. I use greetings of everything from “Yo” to “Dear” and my closes range from today’s “Rock n’ Roll” to “All the best,” “Best regards,” “Thank you.”  Zane Safrit, business consultant.

I always use the informal introduction of: “Hi [first name].” I always sign off with: “Thanks. Wayne.” Wayne Hurlbert, business blogger and social media consultant.

I still address e-mails with “dear” and close with some kind of sign-off. I see it as unnecessary, but an indication of civility or courtesy. If I’m writing a client and it isn’t just another in a string of recent messages, I think they deserve whatever little bit of time it takes to indicate courtesy. Most probably wouldn’t notice it if I didn’t do it. But it helps define me, for better or worse. So I’ll continue to do it until I sense I’m so far behind the curve that it becomes embarrassing. Chris Bonney, marketing researcher.

My emails usually open with the person’s first name only. In multiple reply situations, I tend to leave the name off – depending on the content. If it is lengthier or a more formal message, I include the same again. As for standard close, I don’t have one in my signature. I usually end with a “’Thanks’ or “Have a great week’” type of thing, plus my first name. Sometimes it sounds overly solicitous, so I delete it altogether. Jane Vanderhorst, marketing consultant.

I also reached out to Marsha Egan, workplace productivity coach and author of the popular Inbox Detox blog:

Great etiquette is to use the person’s name somewhere in the email. The next is to be authentic and sincere. Remember that any email can be forwarded so you’re writing for the universe, not just one person. Grammar and spelling [also] count!

Marsha’s reminder that “you’re writing for the universe” is powerful and one that I hope is being taught in today’s writing courses. [Do schools still teach these classes?]

A special thanks to Phil, Dawn, Zane, Wayne, Chris, Jane, Marsha, and everyone who took the time to share their thoughts with me. To my blog readers, your input on this topic is also welcome!

4 Comments

  • PamBurzynski July 28, 2012 Reply

    I really loved this topic, Sybil. I get e-mails all the time that just start talking to/at me, and even when it’s someone I know well or a friend, the e-mail can sound harsh. I prefer to almost always use a greeting and salutation of some sort, to avoid being perceived as in a rush, uncaring or rude. And how true, you never know who will be getting a forward, reply all, etc.

  • Dawn Lennon July 25, 2012 Reply

    Thanks, Sybil, for this wonderful post and for asking for my input. It’s always great to be in such great professional company when tackling a current issue. Well done!

  • chris bonney July 24, 2012 Reply

    I’m always happy to be reassured that I’m not a dinosaur.

  • Wayne Hurlbert July 24, 2012 Reply

    Thanks for the inclusion and for sharing these wonderful email etiquette tips. The world is always a more pleasant place when we show our respect to others through politeness.

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