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Do We Have to Use Email Salutations?


I’m always looking for ways to be more productive, especially with email. Heck, I just wrote a series on good email habits. But today I need your help.

Do we have to start every email with a salutation or even the recipient’s name? And do we have to close with our own name?

My response: no. To both questions.

Emails are notoriously less formal than the old fashioned letter. They’re quick communications that should be short and effective. Why include excess words?

You have already typed the recipient’s email address into the “To” field. And your email address (and name) will appear in the “From” field. What more do we need?

The people involved in an email understand precisely who they’re dealing with. It’s not like the phone where you’re unsure who is on the other end, until you hear them speak. Email is like a phone with caller ID: you know exactly who’s emailing you. And unlike caller ID, people typically don’t send emails from other people’s accounts. So you have an even heightened assurance of identifying the sender, just based on the “From” field.

The only other justification for these excessive words is simply based on manners. I suppose it’s polite to provide a salutation and closing in your emails. But isn’t it also polite to get the point across efficiently and take up as little time as needed?

It’s now a personal goal of mine to eliminate salutations from my emails. Along with the 5 sentences rule, hopefully it will lead to more efficient communication.

Or have I gone totally crazy?

Photo by Kanko*

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17 Responses to “Do We Have to Use Email Salutations?”

  1. Eric S. Mueller
    January 8th, 2008

    Anymore, unless I’m emailing somebody I don’t know, or I’m emailing to ask for a big favor, I tent to treat email as an extension of instant messaging. I’ll include just enough text to make clear what I’m asking for or what my answer is.

  2. Andrew Flusche
    January 8th, 2008

    Eric – Your approach is what I tend to do in practice. And, of course, the president of our company usually gets a salutation. :)

  3. Nick Kasoff
    January 9th, 2008

    If I’m e-mailing a stranger, or somebody in a position of respect, I lean toward using the same formalities as I would in a written letter. If I’m e-mailing somebody I know, I’ll drop the formalities and omit both the salutation and the signature. And even in the case where formality is called for, the same does not apply to replies within the same thread of messages.

    Nick Kasoff

  4. Andrew Flusche
    January 9th, 2008

    Nick – What a great rule of thumb to follow. Thanks for jumping in with a comment!

  5. Ghillie Suit Clothing
    January 10th, 2008

    If it’s a work related email I always put my name at the end. On personal emails I never do. On another note, I always use proper grammar on all emails.

    i would never post incomplete sentences or not capitalize “i” because it just looks bad


  6. Mark - Productivity501
    January 11th, 2008

    Dear Mr. Andrew Flusche,

    One thing to consider is how spam filters work. Including someone’s name helps make it look like other messages the recipient is likely to receive. Most spam filters use bayesian filtering which basically says “do the words in this document look similar to the words in documents that are NOT spam or do they look similar to words that ARE spam.” By including a salutation you help keep your message out of the spam box.

    I know that when I get a message that has my name in the salutation, I’m more likely to assume the person knows me. Without my name I’m more likely to assume they do not know me. Obviously this isn’t always accurate, but it helps when you get an email from someone whose name you don’t recognize.

    I usually add a salutation unless I’m writing a short note to someone where we routinely email back and forth several times each day.



  7. Andrew Flusche
    January 12th, 2008

    Mark – I really like your analysis of the issue. I never thought about a salutation helping with spam, etc. Genius!

  8. Jeanne Dininni
    January 13th, 2008


    Most people don’t use a salutation or a closing in e-mails–or in blog comments either, for that matter. This is fine, because, as you say, e-mails are less formal methods of communication, as are blog comments. I guess I’m old-fashioned, though, because I tend to use them in both e-mails and comments most of the time. Occasionally, however, when an e-mail or a comment is a short reply to another message/comment, I don’t bother. Basically, for me, it depends on the content and how substantive it is, and at times–where blog comments are concerned–the way other commenters are setting up their own comments.


  9. Andrew Flusche
    January 13th, 2008

    Jeanne – I really like your analysis that it depends upon the content and the substance of it. Very insightful!

  10. pet classifieds
    January 16th, 2008

    I have heard some interesting arguments for and against salutations on emails.
    On the personal front or with clients I have been working for alot, the emails are less formal and usually I drop salutations.
    When it is business related and someone I do not know as well, I do include them. You never get the chance to make another first impression and these do represent you as a person as well as a service provider; and this should be reflected in your correspondence.

  11. Mary Whisner
    January 20th, 2008

    Hi, Andrew –
    Call me old-fashioned, but I find email messages without any names too abrupt. I don’t always have a salutation (especially if I’m writing to a group — e.g., all the people in my department). But I sign off with my name.

    A family member (whom I love and respect) for many years leapt into and out of messages without names at the beginning or end, and they seemed very choppy.

    If someone walks into my office to ask a question, I like to have some sort of indication that she’s there to do so. (“Hi, could I ask a question?” “Excuse me, is this a good time?”) With so much of our work being done on email, I like a human touch there too.

    By the way, I prefer “Dear Prof. Jones” or “Dear Pat” to “Pat Jones:”

    – Mary

  12. Paul
    January 23rd, 2008


    (1) I generally start a conversation addressing the recipient by name and closing with my first name. Even if I use a signature, it lets people know how I prefer to be referred to. It would especially be helpful from people like you, e.g., if your signature says “Andrew” but you go by “Andy” or “Drew.”

    (2) After the first e-mail, I tend to drop names.

    (3) Also, these days, lots of e-mails have multiple recipients. Especially when people are CC’d, it’s nice to clear up who the actual recipient is, and to cue everyone else that they are otherwise CC’d.

    (4) As for treating e-mails like instant messages: I think there’s a bit of necessary decorum, linked to mental discipline, to putting some formality into e-mails. Short is not a problem. But omitting capitalization, punctuation, and proper grammar annoys me. In my personal case, I also send “formal” IM messages, too.


  13. Andrew Flusche
    January 23rd, 2008

    Mary – You’re absolutely right that we need a human touch to email. It’s great to be efficient, but we can’t turn ourselves into robots!

    Paul – I really like your point about CC’ing people on emails. Using a salutation points out the actual TO recipients in a glance. I’ve definitely used that many times.

  14. Katherine
    January 29th, 2008

    I think that this is definitely a good point–my boss and I trade one-line emails frequently without greetings or closings. But I think another commenter had the right idea that emailing a stranger should have at least a courtesy Good Morning/Hi So-and-so. Otherwise it seems a bit abrupt.

    I tend to respond in kind. If someone emails me with a “Hi, Katherine” I’ll reply with a “Hi, Bob.” I suppose it sort of follows the treat people the way you want to be treated rule–greet people the way you want to be greeted.

  15. seneschal
    February 28th, 2008

    Dear Andrew:

    In general I do try to write a salutation, even if it’s just “Hi Mary:” in all business emails. I think what you are describing in terms of treating email as an analog of text or instant messaging, but I think we are at least 10 years away from that. That level of informality won’t occur until current ten year olds get into the workforce. Of course if it’s quick back and forth (like re: 5 times I may just skip them).

    Also, I found this interesting Belgian survey while searching for an answer on this:

    It appears adding a salutation adds more weight and encourages responses from the recipient.

    I’ve received emails from both subordinates and superiors without salutation, and they have appear to me as somewhat disrespectful. Especially when others are cc:’ed on the email, if they don’t take the time to address to address me it seems like I should treat their emails with the same effort.

    But of course this topic is a shifting landscape. Remember 5-10 years ago it was very taboo to use your cell phone in a restaurant? That has pretty much gone the route of banning “pissed off” and “bitch” on network TV, or no jeans in the workplace…

  16. Mary Cullen
    October 10th, 2008

    Hi Andrew, I recommend using a salutation for email in business writing when starting a new message (not always reply/s). It sets an appropriate tone if you shape it to match your reader and purpose, is less likely zapped in a spam filter, and it’s an opportunity to show engagement for your reader.

    It’s generally just two words, and there are better places to cut fluff in an email. The salutation is a great opportunity to engage your reader.

  17. Andrew Flusche
    October 13th, 2008

    @Mary – Your point about spam filters is spot-on. I hadn’t thought of that.

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