Email etiquette

How to address an email to someone you don’t know and someone you do

How you address an email sets out the tone of the email, which is very important regardless of the message you are getting across.

How you address an email depends on the context of the email, if you are writing a cover letter, job application, insurance claim etc. it’s likely you’ll be writing formally because it’s business correspondence. However if you’re writing an invitation or letter of condolence the correspondence are much more personal so the email should be informal.


Formal greetings

-A polite and respectful way to open an email to someone you don’t know is “Dear [first name] [last name], or Dear Mrs/Mr/Miss [first name]. Although the first is a safer bet because nowadays you can’t always tell the gender from someone’s name.

-If you’re not sure the recipient is married or unmarried you can use “Ms” as it covers both Mrs and Miss.

-If you want to be formal and don’t know the name of the recipient, you can address the email as “Dear Sir/Madam”. (Bear in mind that this is a fairly old-fashioned greeting and some say it sounds like bad news or a complaint is to follow.)

-Mirror their responses. If they’re addressing you as Madam/Sir, then it’s best to repeat that back to them until they address you by your name, in which case you can follow suit.

-“To Whom It May Concern” is applicable if you’re emailing a generic email i.e. info@ where you truly don’t know where the email is going to in the organisation. This is a fairly cold greeting so if you can find a contact to address the email to, it’s always better.


-Don’t call someone “ma’am”, it’s fairly impersonal and can actually be deemed offensive, research shows that women thought being called ma’am made them seem old and disrespected.

Informal greetings

-If you want to be chatty but still formal you can address an email “Hi Mr/Mrs/Ms [last name]” or if you want to be very informal use “Hi [first name]. It’s a safe and familiar way to address someone whether you know them or not.
If you are emailing a friend or a family member you can address how ever you seem appropriate (Hey/Hiya/Hello), although these greetings are not professional in the workplace.

-It’s best to steer away from ‘Good morning/afternoon/evening’ as by the time the recipient reads the email, it may be past that time of day.

-If you know the person very well, you can open the email up with just the persons name but it’s fairly informal and if you don’t know them well it can appear abrupt and like you’re about to tell them off.

-If someone has signed off their email using a nickname twice in their correspondence with you, it’ acceptable to mimic this and address them by their nickname. Although if you’re unsure stick to their full name.

Singing off an email

-Common formal sign offs include: Best regards, Best wishes, Sincerely and Yours truly.

-If you have addressed the email ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To Whom This May Concern’ then end your email with yours faithfully, followed by your full name.

-If you have begun an email ‘Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss’ then sign off with yours sincerely. If you know them well and the greeting is to be polite, you can end on something slightly more informal such as ‘with best wishes’.

Information sourced from here, here and here – click for more information.