Hello from the Other Side

by Stephanie Whetstone

Formal business letters and hand-written notes may be on the wane, but in the course of a typical work week, emails can pile up. In the crush of incoming correspondence, we are often so compelled to clear out our inbox that we opt for efficiency over courtesy. Some writers even dispense with the salutation, or greeting, at the beginning of the email altogether and just get straight to the point—after all, there is a lot to do.

Leaving out the “Dear Ava,” the “Hi, Joe,” or the “Good Morning, Rachel,” may seem like a small thing when you are writing, but it can lead to hurt and confusion on the other side of your email.

Each subject line in our inboxes arrives in exactly the same font, whether it is a bill, a directive from the boss, spam, or a love letter. Tone is even more important without the visual clues of envelope size, handwriting or print, and paper choice. In the world of electronic communication, words (and in some cases emojis) are the only signals we have. We must set the tone or feeling of the communication from the beginning. Remember that there is a human being receiving whatever you write alone at your computer, and that human being deserves to be addressed by name.

It you are emailing an anonymous recipient, avoid if at all possible the impersonal “To Whom It May Concern” and the archaic “Dear Sir or Madam.” Instead, do a little research to find the name of the person (or at least the title of the person) you hope will receive your email.

Sometimes you know the person on the other end very well and forget about greetings. If you write to this individual several times in the course of a day, the emails may get progressively more informal and shrink to one-liners, but the conversation should still begin as any cordial conversation would in person—with a “Hello,” a “Good morning,” or a “How are you?” The salutation gives recipients a moment to orient themselves and to prepare for the oncoming information.

At the end of an email, it helps to send a signal that you are finished with what you had to say and that you appreciate the recipient’s time and attention. Closings such as “Many thanks,” “All the best,” or that old standby, “Sincerely,” provide structure and order while conveying good will. Finally, don’t forget to include your name. This keeps the personal correspondence personal.

Email is a great communication tool, but it works best when we focus on the human being on the other end of the Internet.