How to start a professional email?

You're writing a professional email and aren't sure how to start it? Stop looking. You're in the right place!

Here we are: in front of our computer, ready to write a great email in English and... we're already stuck: how shoud we greet the recipient? This is a crucial step. It will set the tone of the email: polite, friendly, warm...

And yet, the method is very simple. There is only one single criteria to identify: the nature of your relationship with the recipient.

Determine the nature of your relationship

There are only 3 main cases: a formal relationship, an informal one or an unknown recipient (you don't know exactly who will read your email). Here are a few examples:

Formal relationshipInformal relationshipUnknown recipient
Your boss, a client, a supplier etc.A colleague, an employeeA department (accounting, sales etc.)

Obviously, things aren't always as clear-cut. In the US or in the UK for instance, you will often have an informal relationship with your bosses and call them by their first-name. The company's culture is another factor you should take into account.

Choose the right salutation

In short, here are the few salutations you have to know to be able to deal with almost any kind of situation:

Formal relationshipInformal relationshipUnknown recipient
Your boss (formal), a client, a supplier etc.A colleague, an employee, your boss (informal)A de partment (accounting, sales etc.)
Dear Sir, Dear Madam,

Good morning Mrs Smith,

Dear Mr Smith,
Hi John, Hey John,

Good afternoon John,

Hey everyone,

To whom it may concern,

A good tip: when in doubt, go with «Good morning» or «Good afternoon». These salutations are very safe.

Last but not least

One last word before you start writing your email. In English, we write emails or e-mails but not mails. The word mail refers exclusively to physical mail: a letter, a postcard etc.

There, that's all you need to know. At least, to start the email :-). Now you have to write it and avoid other pitfalls. We'll review the most common ones in our next post!