How to Start an Email: The Best Ways to Begin
Email is a vital communication tool in today’s working world. For many professionals, it is the primary mode of contact with clients, colleagues and other associates across the globe.
Well-written emails convey their message clearly and successfully, while poorly written emails can sidetrack projects and may even harm professional relationships.
Like traditional letters, an effective email follows a particular structure which should include an opening statement, the main body message and a closing line.
Starting your email with an impactful sentence will grab the attention of your reader and get you the required results.
The introductory section is what recipients see first and dictates how they will perceive your message. This is your chance to form a strong impression; make sure it’s a good one.
Why Is it Important to Start Your Emails Well?
After the subject line, the opening elements of an email are the most vital to get right.
The introduction sets the tone for the rest of the message and influences the recipient's perception of the content that follows.
Just as with a face-to-face conversation or a video call, your initial tone and approach can affect the outcome of the interaction.
A friendly yet professional opening to your email can create a positive first impression and help shape your working relationship with the recipient.
Writing a good opening statement will increase your chances of capturing the attention of the recipient and is more likely to invite them to read further. It will encourage them to act on your request, if applicable, and increase the possibility of a positive response.
A carefully worded email that conveys your message well can be great for your credibility and professional reputation. Good email communication makes for good working relationships, leading to enhanced productivity and smoother, more efficient projects.
Alternatively, if the start of your email is unprofessional – for example, impersonal, poorly written or overly familiar – you can give a bad impression.
An unclear email introduction can lead to misunderstanding and confusion, which is frustrating for both the sender and recipient.
What Is Important When Starting a Professional Email?
The opening of your email will depend on your target audience, the appropriate tone and the intended purpose.
Thinking about your recipient, your desired outcome and the reason for sending the message can assist you in defining the correct style and tone.
Find a Specific Contact Where Possible
Take the time to research whether there is a specific person to whom you can address your email.
Receiving an email addressed ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ can give an impersonal feel and the impression that you haven’t taken the time to consider the recipient.
If you cannot find out the recipient's name, ‘To whom it may concern’ is an acceptable alternative.
Spell the Recipient’s Name Correctly
Once you have found out the name of the appropriate recipient, make sure you spell their name correctly. Misspelling it suggests that you have not paid attention or taken enough care.
If someone receives an email with their name misspelled, it can feel somewhat dismissive and can create a worse impression than having no name at all.
You can usually find correct name spellings on a company website or social media profile.
Check the Recipient’s Details
Before sending the email, carefully check that you have the correct details for the recipient.
If you misunderstand their role or send it to the wrong person entirely, your effort will be wasted, and the mix-up might interfere with the intended purpose of the email.
Correcting mistakes can also be time-consuming and might even cause embarrassment in some situations, so double-check the email address before hitting 'send'.
Assess Whether to Use Their First Name or a Title
Addressing the recipient by their first name is acceptable if you already have an existing relationship with them and know that a friendly, personal tone is appropriate.
If the email is official or requires a level of professionalism, or if you don’t know the recipient well, use a title followed by their surname; for example, ‘Mr Michaels’, ‘Mrs Michaels’ or ‘Ms Michaels’.
If you are unsure which is most suitable, opt for the more formal address of title plus surname.
If the recipient holds a professional title, such as Doctor or Professor, address them with their appropriate title followed by the name; for instance, ‘Dr Michaels’.
Don’t Assume Gender
If you know your recipient’s name but not their gender, it is safest to avoid making assumptions about their title.
Instead, use just their first name if it feels appropriate, or this may be the only instance in which it is acceptable to use both first name and surname; for example, ‘Dear Alex Michaels’.
Decide Which Level of Familiarity is Appropriate
It is important for the tone of your email to reflect the existing level of familiarity between you and the recipient.
If you have had previous communications with the recipient, take note of the language and tone they use and mirror it in your email.
Take cues from their signature to find out whether they sign off using a professional title, first name or shortened version of their name.
For example, if Catherine signs off as ‘Cath’ and you feel that you have some familiarity and are comfortable doing so, you could also address her using the shortened form of her name in subsequent emails.
If your email is formal or official, always address the recipient with the appropriate title and surname, and avoid appearing overly familiar.
Be Clear About the Purpose of the Email
Emails should be brief, to the point and concise. When you use flowery language or are indirect in your writing, it is left up to the recipient to interpret what you mean and how important the message is.
Veering off course may be acceptable for informal communication but should be avoided in work emails.
The purpose of your email will also affect the tone and content.
For general inquiries and informal communications, it is appropriate to use a friendly, casual style while retaining a professional stance.
Official business emails or communications to external parties usually require a more formal tone.
Writing must be grammatically correct and free of spelling errors in all cases.
Starting Your Email: Dos and Don’ts
When sending professional emails, certain etiquette rules will help you make a good impression.
The following dos and don’ts explain the best approach:
Do use a salutation or greeting at the beginning of your message but choose carefully. Ideal options include 'Dear X', 'Hi all', 'Hello' or 'Hi team'. Using 'Hiya', 'Hey', 'Howdy', or any other very informal greeting is unprofessional, even for people you know.
Do use the person’s name, as it personalizes the email, shows attention to detail and increases the chance of a positive reception. If you cannot find the person’s name, use an appropriate alternative, such as 'To Whom It May Concern'.
Don’t use their first name unless you are absolutely sure it is their preference. The same goes for a nickname. Also, note that using both their first name and surname can be flagged as spam and will often get deleted before it is opened.
Do take your cue from your correspondent. If they sign off an email as 'Dave' rather than 'David', you can begin your response by addressing them as 'Dave'.
Don’t make assumptions about what people prefer to be called. Even if you call them by the shorter form of their name verbally, if they sign off using their full name, it is safer for you to address them in the same way via email.
Do convey succinct positive sentiments. After your greeting, you can include optional good wishes, such as 'I hope you are well'. If it feels appropriate, you can make it more personal, perhaps asking, 'How are things in California?' or 'Congratulations on your promotion'. Judge your familiarity with the recipient to decide whether to include such phrases.
Don’t go off-topic. State your purpose for writing, be brief and do not fill the email with fluff. This shows the recipient that you value their time. You also risk diluting your message or failing to get across important points if you lose the focus of the email. Be mindful that your recipient might receive many emails each day, so don’t waste their time with irrelevant content.
Do proofread your email and check your spelling and grammar. Anyone can make a mistake, but errors detract from your message. Make sure your writing is of a high standard. Use spell checkers and other online tools if you need to. Keep it professional and avoid any jargon, slang, abbreviations, emojis or exclamation marks. You could ask a colleague to read through especially important emails before sending them.
Appropriate and Inappropriate Greetings
Figuring out how to start an email, especially when writing to someone you don’t know, can be very tricky.
Choosing the right greeting depends on the context and the relationship you have with your target audience.
What is appropriate for your coworker may not be right for the CEO or a potential client.
Here are some of the most common appropriate and inappropriate greetings to help you select the right one:
Some Appropriate Greetings
- Dear – Always a good option, particularly for formal communications.
- Hi – A typically safe choice and less formal than 'Dear'. However, it can be overly informal if you do not know the recipient, so use with care.
- Hello – Another good, simple choice that sits somewhere between 'Hi' and 'Dear'.
- To Whom It May Concern: – An appropriate choice if you cannot find the contact’s name, but can sound cold and overly formal.
- Greetings – A warmer, less formal choice when you don’t know the contact’s name.
Some Inappropriate Greetings
- Hey, Hiya or Yo – Unprofessional and should have no place in your workplace communications.
- Dear Sir/Madam – A traditional greeting for formal letters and emails but now considered too generic and suggests that you have not done your research.
- No greeting – It may be a challenge to choose the most appropriate salutation but skipping it entirely is impolite and inappropriate.
- Misspelled name – Spelling the recipient’s name incorrectly creates a negative impression and suggests carelessness.
Examples of Email Openings
Formal, when you do not know the recipient’s name:
To Whom It May Concern:,
We are writing to inform you that we will be carrying out road repairs in your street. We apologize for any inconvenience.
Formal, when you do know the recipient’s name:
Congratulations on being appointed as the new head of department. I look forward to working with you and would like to take this opportunity to arrange a meeting to discuss the new proposal.
Informal, for a colleague:
How was your holiday? Well done on your promotion. I look forward to discussing the new proposal with you at our meeting next week.
Email has become the main method of communication in many workplaces. It is vital that the introduction you use captures the recipient's attention and conveys the right impression and message.
Consider the elements that come together to make a great email opening.
Think about which greeting is most appropriate, whether to include a goodwill statement and how to introduce the main content of your email.
Your familiarity with the recipient and the required formality of the email will help determine the appropriate tone. To increase the impact of your email, ensure that your spelling and grammar is accurate, and avoid slang or jargon.
Respect your recipient’s time with succinct points and concise wording, and be clear and to the point to prevent misunderstandings or confusion.
An email with a carefully thought-out introduction can set the tone for future interactions. You can improve working relationships simply by ensuring courteous and professional email communications.