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issue 45

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Training Bulletin Issue 45

Signet rings and sealing wax

Dear readers…
Hi everyone…
Hello all…
Hey folks…
Oi! You!

How the heck are you supposed to address an email? None of the above, unfortunately, seems to be the answer, because we just can’t agree. Conventions for letters evolved over centuries and became very formalised, but even they changed over time. We’ve only had email for a couple of decades. You would think we’d be getting used to it by now, but the arguments about usage roar on as people continue to do their own thing and nobody can agree on standards.

Are emails equivalent to letters in any case? Some companies think so, and so adopt letter-writing standards. But others think that starting an email with “Dear name” is as outmoded as sealing wax. A recent email from an American official started with the words “Hey folks” and also started a furore.

So what can you do? No matter what you decide, someone out there won’t like it. Read on for five specific suggestions that will help you and your staff to avoid the more dubious practices.

Email how to – everyone has an opinion

There have been several stories in the press recently about email usage and its pitfalls and perils. The BBC reported on the American Congress spokeswoman who started an email to the press with the words “Hey folks”.

The press then went to town. “Dear” is too intimate. “Dear” sounds professional and business-like. “Hey” sounds jaunty and uplifting. No it doesn’t, it sounds like a sharp jab.

Creative marketing types, etiquette guides, English teachers, social behaviour experts all weighed in to the debate and there was little consensus. There were also over 400 comments from readers, showing how subjective are our attitudes to email conventions. If you are interested in seeing the story, it is here:

To greet or not to greet

The first thing to decide is: do you need to have a salutation at the beginning of an email at all? One school of thought argues that having a name in the To field removes the need for a separate salutation, but in our experience it’s more common for people to think that no salutation is less polite.

The only time you can skip the salutation safely is if you get to the second or third email in a quick exchange, because by then it’s more like an ongoing conversation.

So our first suggestion is that, on the whole, a salutation is better than no salutation.

How to say Hello

Letters have a standard: Dear name. If you feel that your emails now serve the same purpose as letters, then this is an option. To some, though, this seems too formal. Paradoxically, the immediacy and informality of email compared to letters can also make this sound too intimate, particularly as it’s usually followed by a given name rather than salutation lastname. Other options include hello, hi or even hey or yo. Whether or not you like any of those, most people would accept that they show decreasing degrees of formality. With letters, we did not adjust for level of formality by using different salutations – one size fitted all – but with email most people acknowledge that different salutations imply different levels of friendliness or casualness.

Our second suggestion is that Hello name is slightly more formal and Hi name more casual.

(Hey or yo are perhaps a bit too informal for business usage in Britain.)

You could just start the email with your recipient’s name. To a lot of people, though, this starts to sound like calling out to catch their attention – a bit too “Hey, you!” Part of the problem here is that we put the name on a separate line. Having it as continuous text, with just a comma after it, might sound more like a conversation: look at these two examples.

Our third suggestion is, if you just want to use someone’s name, follow it with a comma and the rest of your sentence on the same line.

If you are replying to someone else’s email, another useful approach is to let them set the tone.

Our fourth suggestion is to use the same salutation and sign off as your respondent.

How to say goodbye

With letters, it was “Yours sincerely” if you had addressed them by name and “Yours faithfully” if you had not. Nobody argued about it because that was accepted as the way you wrote letters.

Now, what about “I have the honour to remain, sir, your most obedient servant”? Variations on this were fairly common 50 or 60 years ago. I am not proposing that we start using it, but it shows that letter endings have evolved over time.

Email is still evolving, but the emerging common convention is some variation of the word Regards: Kind Regards, Best Regards or just Regards. Whichever of these you prefer, most people agree that you don’t show much regard if you abbreviate them, though.

Other options include Best Wishes, With Thanks or perhaps All the Best.

Less formal is something like Cheers, perhaps acceptable among colleagues or clients you know well. For business use it’s still best to avoid XXX, hugs or smileys.

Again, for a rapid conversation, you can omit a sign off after the second or third email. Moving from a more formal to a more casual sign off over a period of time can also reflect a relationship developing, so consider changing your sign off. It can seem like a rejection if you feel you are getting to know someone, your conversations or meetings seem very friendly, but they keep signing off their email very formally because the sign off is in the signature file and never changes.

Our fifth suggestion is to sign off with a variant of Regards, written out in full, and change it according to the relationship.

Email Masterclass – now revised and extended

If you suspect your organisation does not use email to best advantage, lack of training may be leading to inconsistent or unprofessional habits.

We have now updated our Email Masterclass to include the latest thinking on emails and extended it to a full day’s course. Here is a quick overview of the contents:

You can see the full course outline here or email for more information.

Public course schedule

Follow this link for the dates of our public courses.

The price is £495 + VAT per person for a one-day course and £850 + VAT for a two-day course. Half day courses are £295 + VAT per person.

Consultancies cost £850 + VAT for one day or £500 + VAT for half a day, held at your premises.

We also offer private courses at your premises. Please call us for details.

How to book

To book, call Abi on +44(0)844 445 7743 ext 20, or use the booking form.

Kind Regards
The Plain Words Training Team

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