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Dear dear, what a quandary

When I mentioned mail-merging names into emails last week, a reader suggested it’s worth discussing the current thinking about salutations in emails. In traditional letter writing, there was no dilemma – we always used “Dear” followed by the recipient’s first name or title-plus-surname. But emails changed all that, maybe because they were initially the province of computer folk, but more likely because they were originally only used for informal notes. Now they’re the main form of written communication for everyone, and a degree of familiarity has become the norm, even when it’s something you’d still never do on paper. But there are no real rules.

Thanks to the power of email search, I can do a quick survey of my own inbox. In the last month I’ve had 44 emails from outside the organisation starting “Hi Chris”, 2 using “Hello Chris” and 3 with “Dear Chris”. It doesn’t look like there were any which used no salutation at all. That’s conclusive enough to spot a clear convention. However, while I can think of many business acquaintances where “Hi” seems a perfect way to start an email, there are many others where it seems awkward. They’re just not “Hi” types of people.

The correct salutation is of course the one which feels right. If the recipient was “Mr. Smith”, you wouldn’t use “Hi”. If you’re replying to an email somebody else has instigated, then you can copy their salutation. But the best approach for a mail-merged email is a difficult call. I think if it’s a short-ish notification, you might get away without using any salutation, e.g:

Chris – we’d like to let you know about…

However, for more detailed communications, unless your mailing list consists entirely of genuinely personal acquaintances, I think the only form which works across the board is still “Dear”. And don’t forget, your database has to be spectacularly clean to even think about mail-merging an email. Any thoughts, tips or suggestions from you are welcome though. Let me know what you think on the website.

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