The State of the Email Salutation: Hi, Hello or Dear?

Man sending an email

It’s possible that you are not aware of a raging debate online and in print regarding the proper email salutation. The controversy is not quite on the same level as the political debates, thank goodness;  but like those hurricanes some of us dread all summer long, it is growing in intensity and covering an ever-widening area.

A while ago I was contacted by the Wall Street Journal for an article titled “Hey, Folks: Here’s a Digital Requiem for a Dearly Departed Salutation”. That was followed by a call from a reporter at Forbes.com seeking my opinion on the use of “hi” vs. “dear” as an email salutation or greeting. From the comments and responses in those articles, this topic stirred up quite a controversy. And it continues.

Opinions on the proper email salutation:

Those who were either interviewed or quoted in were adamant about their stance.  Some felt the word “dear” was old-fashioned and out-of-date.  One person said it was too “girlie” while another stated that it was extremely intimate. Yet another replied that using any salutation at all takes too much time to type. I’m no speed typist, but really? How long does it take to type two letters?

Opinions were all over the map. Many people who preferred “hello” over “hi.”  “Hey” did not seem to get any votes.  Maybe all those interviewed had a mother like mine who drilled into me that “hey” was not an appropriate greeting in any situation. “Hay is for horses” was her response to anyone saying “hey”.  As a Southerner, I have to admit that I use the word frequently as a verbal greeting with friends.  It’s as common as grits here in the Georgia.

My stance on the email salutation:

  1. One size does not fit all. Use the email salutation appropriate to the situation and the person to whom you are addressing your email. Context and familiarity dictate the salutation.
  2. Use “dear” in your initial correspondence with someone whom you have never met and with whom you are trying to establish a professional relationship. When in doubt, “dear” is always safe and should be the default greeting for any first communication
  3. Use “hi” or “hello” once you have established a comfortable relationship. “Hi” is viewed as relaxing and welcoming.
  4. Follow the lead of your client or customer. If the other person always uses “dear”, then so do you. If they begin their correspondence with you by saying “hi,” follow suit. As in all business situations, mimic your client.
  5. Use a salutation of some form. There is always enough time to be courteous. Launching your conversation without a greeting is the same online as it is in person. It’s abrupt.
  6. Along with your chose email salutation include the person’s name. However, never use anyone’s first name in business until and unless they give you permission. When people sign their email reply to you using their first name, that is a signal that you no longer need to use “Mr.” or Ms.”
  7. With friends you may be as informal as you like. If you frequently exchange email with certain friends and colleagues, there is no need to be formal. Nevertheless, I am a fan of a greeting of some sort even if it is simply starting off with your friend’s or co-worker’s first name.

Still confused? Let me summarize:

  • Although “Dear” is viewed as outmoded by some, it is a failsafe fall-back.
  • “Hello” followed by the person’s name, is also acceptable.
  • “Hi”, plus the name, has been on the rise for some time, and is considered standard in many situations.

At this point, I leave the email salutation to your good judgment. I feel confident that “dear” is not dead.  But I believe that we are going to see a lot more “hi” in our in-boxes.

About the Author

Lydia Ramsey helps organizations attract and retain clients through the simple practice of modern manners and the basic principles of courtesy, kindness and respect. © Lydia Ramsey. All rights in all media reserved.

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