An Email Etiquette Dilemma – Is It Hey, Hi or Dear?

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In the event you are not aware of it, there is a debate going on regarding the proper salutation to use for your email communication. It is not quite on the same level as the political debates, but like Hurricane Isaac, it is growing  in intensity and covering an ever widening area.

Earlier this year I was contacted by the Wall Street Journal for an article being written by Dionne Searcey titled “Hey, Folks: Here’s a Digital Requiem For a Dearly Departed Salutation.” Last week a reporter from Forbes.com, Susan Adams, called to ask my opinion on the use of “hi” vs. “dear” as an email greeting.  From the number of comments and the diverse responses posted on her article, “Hi? Dear? The State of the Email Salutation,” this is a topic which has stirred up quite a controversy.

Those who were either interviewed for these articles or who were quoted in them were adamant about their stance.  Some felt the word “dear” was old-fashioned and out-of-date.  One person felt it was too “girlie” while another said it was too intimate. Yet another replied that using any salutation at all takes too much time to type.

Between the two articles,  opinions were all over the map and included those who preferred “hello” over “hi.”  “Hey” did not seem to get any votes.  Maybe all those interviewed had a mother like mine who drilled into me that “hey” was not an appropriate greeting in any situation. “Hay is for horses” was her  response to anyone saying “hey”.  As a Southerner, I have to admit that I use “hey” frequently as a verbal greeting with friends.  It is as common as grits here in the South.

Here is my stance on how you should begin email correspondence from an email etiquette point of view:

  1. One size does not fit all.  Use the salutation  appropriate to the situation.
  2. Use “dear” in your initial correspondence with someone you have never met and with whom you are trying to establish a business relationship.
  3. Use “hi” or “hello” once you have established a relationship.
  4. Follow the lead of your client or customer. If the other person always uses “dear”, then so do you. If they begin their reply to you with “hi,” then follow suit.
  5. Use a salutation of some form. There is always enough time to be courteous,
  6. Along with your greeting include the person’s name. However, never use anyone’s first name in business until they give you permission.
  7. With friends you may be as informal as you like.

From reading all the quotes and comments in these two articles, I feel confident that “dear” is not dead.  But I believe that we are going to see a lot more of “hi” in our in-boxes.

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25 thoughts on “An Email Etiquette Dilemma – Is It Hey, Hi or Dear?

  1. reagan andres

    Dear Ms. Ramsey, I agree with your article! This is a pet peeve of mine along with not cleaning up your emails that you forward on to other people. Thank you for this article.

    reagan andres

    Reply
  2. Customer service

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    Reply
  3. Durham

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    Reply
  4. Mr. Smith

    Appreciate the time and energy you put into your blog and in-depth information you provide. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed information. Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

    Reply
  5. Mohamed

    What you posted made a ton of sense. But, consider this, suppose you were to create a killer title? I am not suggesting your content isn’t good, but suppose you added something to possibly get folk’s attention? I mean “An Email Etiquette Dilemma – Is It Hey, Hi or Dear” is a little vanilla. You might peek at Yahoo’s home page and note how they write news titles to grab people to click. You might try adding a video or a related pic or two to grab people interested about everything you’ve got to say. In my opinion, it would bring your website a little bit more interesting.

    Reply
  6. liefefourcu.science

    Some professions get highly turned off by the use of the wrong etiquette; as with most areas of life, especially in Britain, we judge someone within a few seconds of seeing their email – a truth that will get the naive decorum detractors piping up.

    Reply
  7. erp

    Your style is so unique compared to other people I’ve read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I’ll just book mark this
    blog.

    Reply
  8. Penelope

    Hello,

    I really enjoyed reading your article on the email saluations and found it a useful reminder for my colleagues.

    I tend to use good morning/afternoon as a formal greeting in place of dear. Dear does feel a bit old fashioned and better suited to handwritten letters. I also use dear for job applications.

    Reply
  9. Lydia Ramsey Post author

    Pen, you are absolutely right that the closing of the email is equally as important as the greeting. That is the subject of another post. Meanwhile I believe you should have an appropriate closing, your name and below your name a complete signature block with all your contact information.

    Reply
  10. Pen

    I think the ending of the email is just as controversial. Thanks, Regards, Kind Regards….. and do you put your name or formal email signature?????

    Reply
  11. Princess Hazel

    Hello Ms. Ramsey,
    I am responding to your newsletter on “Email Etiquette”, I agree with your statement as I was taught in Etiquette School the above as stated. I do use “Hi” and the person’s name when speaking to my close friends via email. And when I email clients I use Dear and Hello, and get the response I need from them in a timely manner with appreciation on my emails. Thank you for your emails and I look forward to learning more from you.
    Be Blessed
    Princess

    Reply
  12. Elizabeth Greenfield

    Dear Lydia:
    I agree completely with everything you wrote. The fact that written communication no longer requires finding proper paper, pen and stamp does not relieve us of our social duty to be polite and show respect. And not until your correspondent either gives you leave to address him/her informally (“Please call me Beth”) or signs correspondence informally may you use anything but proper address form. Also, I think “hey” is not only too informal for business, but too rude for almost any use. “Hey” is not a greeting; it’s what you yell at someone when you need to attract attention.

    Reply
  13. Brenda

    Hello Ms. Ramsey,
    My name is xxxx and I love to receive your emails regarding Business Etiquette. I am responding to your request to give input regarding what I think about business email salutations. I do not like the term “dear” as it is too personal and very unprofessional in the work place. I personally think it is slightly “creepy” and very antiquated. As I audit computer systems, I have to send many emails to people I do not know and I have found that if I use “Hello Mr. xxxx” that I am interpeted as being formal and respectful. I immediately give them my name and reason for sending my email. I have found that everyone I have addressed this way responds very positively and normally perform the tasks I request regarding the problems that were found during my audits. This includes mangers or other employees that out-rank me. I never use “hi” or “hey”
    unless it is a close friend or work aquatance. I do often use, “Good Morning or Afternoon” to work aquaintances when I need to be more formal. With my small group, they would be insulted and think I were being snobish if I were not casual in my salutations. I hope my input is helpful. Again, thank you for your emails. I look forward to getting them. – BI (Web Consultant)

    Reply
  14. Frank Murphy

    Good Morning Lydia:

    For personal contact, (face-to-face and phone), I always use Mr. or Ms. until asked to use their first name. Ditto for e-mail except when e-mail inquiries and replies start with “Frank” or Dear Frank”, then I revert to using their first name.

    For phone and e-mail, I generally open with Good Morning, Lydia, or Hello Lydia. Never “hey.” Hay is for horses ! 🙂

    Reply
  15. Beatrice

    In business I use email daily to company affiliates in a global business environment. I always use Dear….
    I only use Hello or Hi for internal customers or personal. Never Hey or just their name.

    Reply
  16. Greg Tamblyn

    Hey there Lydia!

    Since many people do expect a certain amount of humor and informality from me, I try to oblige without being irritatingly flip. I always like it when people take the time to amuse me in an email, even if it’s for bidness, and I try to make my own emails fun but not frivolous. I also think if you can be different – but not wacko – you get more attention. So it’s a balance. You want to be fun but still taken seriously. Is that an oxymoron?

    Great article – thanks!
    Greg

    Reply
  17. Anne Boyd

    Dear, Dear Lydia, Thank you so much for this clear and reasonable answer to the salutation issue. I use the “double dear ” to express just what it sounds like: Southern, a bit old-fashioned and very sincere. I wish more people read your blog and acted accordingly!

    Reply
  18. Olga Hoenes

    Dear Ms. Ramsey, I agree with your article! This is a pet peeve of mine along with not cleaning up your emails that you forward on to other people. Thank you for this article.

    Olga

    Reply
  19. David Morgan, CCIM

    “Dear Mr Smith” is now too formal for e-mail.

    My standard greeting is now to state the person’s name, followed by “Hi” or “Hello” or “Good Morning/Afternoon”, as the situation demands. Examples, in descending order of formality:

    Mr. Smith, Hello
    Don, Good Morning
    Don, Hi

    To me, “Hey” implies a degree of informality and enthusiasm that is not common in business. I do use it, but sparingly in personal communications. For personal e-mails, my usual is, as above, “Lydia, Hi”

    Reply

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