E-mails are essentially informal communication but are being used by most organizations for all their communications. Sending letters has become uncommon and most businesses prefer using e-mail to communicate. E-mail has thus become a semi-formal way of communication. More than 3.8 billion people worldwide[i] use email – that is almost half of the world. A staggering number of 281.1 million e-mails are sent every day. Every second there are almost 200,000 e-mails being sent.
With so much of e-mail being used, it is important to know how to start an e-mail. This is a skill that may not be taught at school or college. Most persons start an e-mail in the same way, whether they are addressing friends, customers, or their boss. E-mail etiquette is an unwritten code of conduct that we can follow to send e-mails, particularly in formal communication.
Let’s look at how you can start an e-mail, whatever may be the reason you are sending the e-mail.
- Who is the recipient?
If the recipient is a family member or a friend, you can send the e-mail in any form you want, the other person may not mind. The problem is when you start getting used to sending e-mails in such a casual way, you may even send formal e-mails in the same way. E-mail etiquette demands that you use a standard approach even to casual e-mails sent to friends and relatives.
If it is a formal e-mail, it may be sent to customers, suppliers, or any other stakeholder of a company. You should take care that your e-mail doesn’t appear informal. If you know the recipient very well, you can be semi-formal in your approach. E-mail etiquette is a must in official e-mails. It makes your e-mails look professional.
- The Subject
Every e-mail has a subject field, where you can mention the subject or topic of your e-mail. Make sure you fill it. It lets the recipient know what the context of the email is. Keep the subject short. It should be a few words or a phrase. e.g.: Invitation to party, Business Proposal, Follow-up on your complaint, Exclusive offer for you, etc.
If you are replying to an e-mail, then the subject line is automatically filled in as Re:<previous subject> with the subject used by the sender. If you are forwarding an e-mail to someone, the subject line would start with ‘Fw:’. This lets the recipient know that is a forwarded e-mail.
- The Greeting
You start the e-mail with a greeting by addressing the recipient. You can use this even for casual e-mails. Starting an e-mail without the greeting appears very rude.
You can start the e-mail using any of the following greetings:
- Hi <Name>,
This is the standard way to start most e-mails unless it is a very formal email. If you are sending bulk mail addressed to many people, you can skip the name and just start with ‘Hi’.
This is a good way of starting a semi-formal email when you don’t know the recipient’s name or while sending bulk mail.
- Hello <Name>
If you prefer a slightly more formal greeting, you can use ‘hello’, though it is a bit old fashioned.
- Dear <Name>
This is a conventional greeting used in letters. If the email is very formal, then you can use this greeting. Depending on who the recipient is and how formal the e-mail is, you can add Prof/Dr./Mr./Mrs. or Ms. as a prefix to the name.
- Starting the message
Leave a line after the greeting and then start with the content. The first para is where you introduce yourself and the subject of the e-mail. This is when you are e-mailing for the first time. In other cases, you can start by making a reference to the previous email or directly get to the subject of the mail. You can use ‘w.r.t’ (with reference to), while referring to a previous e-mail or conversation.
Look at some of these opening lines to get an idea of how you can make it look professional.
“Let me introduce myself. I am the Sales Head of <Company> and am writing to inform you of an exclusive offer that we have for you.”
“W.r.t our previous conversation, I am sending you the list of products that you wanted in an excel file.”
“I am a customer of your company and writing to you to share a problem that I faced while using your product.”
“Hope you are doing well. I received your bill for last month and found a small error in it.”
“Thanks for your previous email. I have shared your feedback with our management and explained your concerns to them.”
“Hope you are having a great week. I wanted to invite you to a party this weekend.”
Once you are done with the start, then you can go ahead and say what you want. Break the e-mail content into short paragraphs (not more than 3 or 4 paras). Conclude by thanking the other person or summing up what you want to say. You can sign off the e-mail with “Best Regards” followed by your name. If it is an official e-mail, include your designation, company name, and phone number below your name.
You can end an informal e-mail with “Cheers” followed by your name. Sign offs like “Sincerely”, “Truly” are considered old-fashioned and best suited for letters.
Once you finish your email, re-check if you have typed the e-mail ID of the recipient correctly. Proof-check the e-mail for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Even though the e-mail is a semi-formal communication, too many mistakes in an e-mail makes it appear unprofessional. Once you are satisfied with the contents, click on send and that’s it your email is delivered to the recipient.