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Writing a business email in English - how to start, the do's and don'ts.

The subject of your email should be clear. Before the reader opens your mail they will want to know what it is about. The clearer you make this, the more chance your email will have of being opened in a busy inbox.

  • Be polite. This might seem a strange thing to say about an email subject, but if you use capital letters it will appear impolite.

  • Avoid abbreviations. You might know what they mean, but your reader might not and the importance of your message could be lost.

  • Use reference numbers. If you are replying to an email and the original subject is not clear add a relevant reference number. This could be a project number, case number, purchase order number, anything that will help you and others to search for emails in the future. Use square brackets at the end of the subject to do this: [ref: project XYZ].


It can be difficult to know how to address someone in an email and each type of situation might require a different type of address. Here are some frequently asked questions:


How formal should I be when addressing a business email?

  • Dear + the person's name if you know it. The first time you write to someone use their surname, afterwards you can use their first name. For example, you are writing to Jane Edwards, write Dear Ms Edwards, if you are writing to Tom Smith you would write, Dear Mr Smith.

Sometimes it is difficult to know from a name whether someone is male or female. What should I do then?

  • If it is the first time you are writing to someone, you haven't spoken to them, and you cannot tell by their name whether they are male or female, for example Alex Jones, where Alex can be short for Alexander or Alexandra, avoid using Mr or Ms. In this case use Dear Sir or Madam in order not to offend the reader. Other greetings appropriate in this case are Good morning or Good afternoon.

How do I address someone if I don't know their name?

  • You can use greetings such as: Dear Sir or Madam, Dear customer, Dear head of recruitment, Dear valued supplier or Dear reader if you are sending out a newsletter.

Can't I just say Dear?

  • This should be avoided. In English we don't start an email with just Dear,

  • Dear is always follow this with a name as suggested above.

What if I don't know their name, or their job title?

  • You can use a greeting such as Good morning or Good afternoon depending on the time of day you send the email. This is useful if you are emailing a functional mailbox such as info@ABC.com where more than one person will have access to read the mail.

Is there anything else I should avoid doing?

  • Don't shorten the person's name, unless they have told you it's ok. For example, you are writing to Rebecca. Don't shorten it to Becky unless she's specifically said "call me Becky."

  • Don't use "Hey" ,"Yo" or "Hiya" as this is far too informal. You would only use this language with close friends.

Do you have any other tips?

  • If you are replying to an email and you are unsure how to address the recipient, use a mirroring technique. For example, the email you received addressed you as Dear Mr Smith, reply with Dear Ms Edwards. If the email started with Dear Tom, reply with Dear Jane.

  • If you know someone well, and communicate with them often, you can start with "Hello Jane", or "Hi Tom".

In summary:



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