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Writing emails: openings and endings
Lady on Computer

Daniela from Italy writes:

Could you please give me some tips about netiquette, i.e. which are the correct forms of address for emails and how do you close them? Thanks.

Roger Woodham replies:
  Netiquette

There is no standard format as far as I know for netiquette - etiquette for the net. Netiquette is a new word. Etiquette is a system of social rules or polite bahaviour relating to a particular group of people - in this case all the people who use the web for emails.

snail mail

For letters, whose progress can be as slow as that of a snail when they are entrusted to the postal system, there are clearly defined conventions for opening and closing:

For formal letters when the name or sex of the recipient is not known:
OPENING: Dear Sir(s), Dear Madam or Dear Sir or Madam
CLOSING: Yours faithfully (In American English, sometimes: Yours truly,)

For the more formal style of letter when their name is known but you do not know them very well:
OPENING: Dear Mr Jenkins, Dear Ms Hopkins (or, if you know their marital status and know that they prefer to be addressed as Mrs or Miss: Dear Miss Hopwell, Dear Mrs Jenkinson)
CLOSING: Yours sincerely (In American English, sometimes: Sincerely Yours, Sincerely,

For informal letters to business contacts that you know well:
OPENING: Dear Tony, Dear Estelle
CLOSING: With best wishes or With kind regards followed by Yours sincerely or, sometimes, in public service Yours ever

For letters to friends or close family members:
OPENING: Dear Maggy, Dear Freddie
CLOSING: Yours, Your, Love, Lots of Love (Hugs and Kisses)

 

Emails

However, there are no standard formulas for starting or finishing emails. Only one thing is clear. Emails are invariably of an informal nature, so informal language tends to be the norm.

starting emails

  • Hi, Roger, Hello Roger, Dear Roger

These seem to represent an informal norm, as far as there is one.

  • Roger, Dear Mr Woodham

These formats are used more in business correspondence. Note that using the given name alone, as above, is reminiscent of business memos among colleagues within the same organisation.

But I have also received emails with a wide variety of other opening formulas over the last twelve months. I list them all below from most formal to least formal:

  • Dear Professor Woodham (this is incorrect as I am not a university professor),

  • Dear Roger Woodham (note that this formula is also used in letters sometimes),

  • Hello Roger Woodham, Hi Roger Woodham, Good morning Roger, Hey Roger, Hey you guys (this one to me and my colleagues)

ending emails

  • Best wishes, Regards, Best regards, Good wishes.

These seem to represent the informal norm, followed by the given name (David/Dave/etc) of the sender.

Occasionally, Yours sincerely is combined with Best wishes or stands alone before the given name of the sender, as in a semi-formal letter. Very occasionally, I have received emails ending, e.g. Yours sincerely and then on the next line the given name plus family name, David Green, but this is an exception.

Sometimes, a pre-closing formula is used instead of or in addition to the standard closure, e.g.

  • Let me know if you need more information,
    Dave

  • Look forward to hearing from you.
    Best wishes,
    Dave
    The text itself

There is also a trend, particularly in informal emails, to dispense with capitalisation, punctuation and to use shortened forms and shortened words as in text-messaging. This is a slightly extreme example, but you might one day get an email looking something like this:

  • Hey babe

    b4 u leave b'ham pls spk 2 NG & tell her we'll b @ r hse in sth ldn till nxt weds. Ta v much. C u soon. Luv ND

Translated into more standard English (the opening here is slightly old-fashioned), this would read:

  • Dearest

    Before you leave Birmingham, please speak to Angie and tell her we'll be at our house in South London until next Wednesday. Thanks very much.

    See you soon.
    Love,
    Andy
   

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