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Dear Madam/Sir: The right start to your business emails

Anyone who writes a (business) letter or email has to make many choices. Not only about the content and structure, but also about the layout and tone of the text. This certainly includes the opening and closing of the letter or email. An incorrect or inappropriate salutation can be poorly received, getting you off to a bad start. In this blog we’ll offer some tips to help you pick the right greeting for various situations.

Dear or Best

The first question is whether it’s best to start the correspondence with ‘Dear’ or, for our Dutch readers, ‘Best’? In Dutch, ‘Beste’ is often used as a greeting, while in English, ‘Best’ is used only as a sign-off and is slightly informal. With English letters, Dear is usually the appropriate salutation. This has to do with the fact that nowadays letters are only used in fairly formal situations, and a formal salutation is appropriate.

With e-mail it’s a bit more complicated. If you don’t know the recipient at all, or if the situation is formal, then Dear “name” is also the best choice here. For more informal messages, Dear is a good option, but saying Good Morning/Afternoon ‘name’ is also acceptable and common. If you know each other well, you can also choose a short salutation such as Hi or Hello “name”.

Madam or Sir

If you don’t know the name of your recipient, but know their gender, you can choose ‘Sir’ for men and ‘Madam’ for women. These words are always written in full. Miss is old-fashioned, so it is better to not use it at all. You can start with Dear Sir, or Dear Madam, for example. You may also choose a salutation such as ‘To whom it may concern’. This is a broad way to address formal correspondence, and may also be used when addressing a group. 

Names in the salutation

When interacting with someone in a formal way, use their last name in the salutation if you know it: “Dear Mr. Winkel”, “Dear Ms/Mrs. Amrani”. If you are not sure if a woman is married, use Ms instead of Mrs. Mr does not change for married men. 

For an informal salutation, a first name is more appropriate: Dear Tim, Hello Soumaya. Some people combine first and last names: Dear Tim Winkel, Dear Soumaya Amrani, though that is less common.

It is better to not use Dear without any further additions; that comes across as rather bland. You can also refer to the capacity in which you are addressing the reader: Dear reader, Dear subscriber.

Group of recipients

If your message is going to multiple recipients, and there is no way to personalise each message, it is best to choose a salutation that fits everyone. ‘Dear ladies and gentlemen’, is possible, but there are more options: Dear Management, Dear Committee, Dear Customer, Dear Colleague. If you are unsure about who may be reading your message, consider the salutation ‘to whom it may concern’.

Some writers still opt for outdated variants such as L.S. or Dear Sirs. Not everyone remembers that L.S. is an abbreviation of Lectori Salutem (which means “to the reader”). That makes this salutation unclear and impersonal. That My Lords no longer fits in with today’s business life hopefully needs no further explanation.

Communicating professionally at a distance

With many people working from home, more communication than ever is done via email. How do you ensure appropriate, businesslike language with the right tone-of-voice in emails, on Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp or on the phone? Follow our online training course Business Dutch or English: Communicating Professionally at a distance for personal coaching and practical handles on business communication.

 

    Read also: Before you hit send

    Read also: Business Writing: Getting your point across

Paul Van Zanten
Paul is an American intercultural communications professional living in the Netherlands and connecting with his Dutch roots. With a passion for travel, as well as gaining new perspectives and experiences, Paul aims to further his growth, as well as that of others at Language Partners.

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