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How do you like to be addressed in an email and how do you like it to begin? What do you do when you write an email?
I received an email today that started “GREETINGS PHILIP!!!”. I didn’t like the opening, which I will come to shortly, but I soon stopped reading when I realised that Johnny was trying to sell me a VoiP switchboard system that could handle 200+ extensions (so, how many more than 200, Johnny?). Further, he was recommending the 24/7 Plus configuration at a fraction of the cost that BT would charge. Johnny, I really do not want more than 24/7; that smacks of overselling.
I soon deleted the junk email, but I realised that the “GREETINGS PHILIP!!!” opening had really annoyed me. He could be selling top quality beer at £1 per pint and I wouldn’t be interested. I found five flaws in his opening. I hate being called Philip. The only people that are just about allowed to call me Philip are immigration officers and VAT officials. Actually, I am curious where Johnny did get my forename from. Moving on, I didn’t see the point of three exclamation marks – one is always ample, but, in this case, no exclamation mark was needed. Capital letters were certainly unnecessary, although the subject line was a crass “LOOK!! NEW!!”, which had a mere two exclamation marks for each word. Then, we come to absence of a comma after the word “GREETINGS”, but finally we come to the salutation itself “GREETINGS”. Why was Johnny greeting me when he has no idea who I am as far as I know?
Now, this wasn’t as far as I could tell a “Seasons Greetings” type greeting, which may have been appropriate with a few days to Christmas. There was no other mention of Christmas. It was just a plain old “Greetings” instead of “Hi”, “Hey”, “Dear”, “Hello” or whatever else may be used. However, it made me think. I am not always comfortable about the way I start emails if I am honest. So, let’s look at the options available.
My favoured opening is undoubtedly “Hi”. I think there was a time several years ago when I thought it was too familiar – the sort of thing you might shout across the street to a neighbour that you had spotted, but it seems to be the most popular opening these days. It seems to have taken on the status of ‘safe and respectable’ in most cases. Mind you, I wouldn’t write to a Government official or The Queen with the opening “Hi Queen” – I should add that I never write to The Queen. But, generally, it seems to be work fine.
Business associates in America and, to a lesser extent, in Europe often open their emails to me with “Hey”. I really don’t like it. My wife, who is a psychotherapist, tells me that everything relates to your childhood and, on this occasion, she is right. I am sure my mother used to shout “Hey” at me as a child when I was doing something I shouldn’t be doing. So, “Hey” does slightly offend me and it’s something that I would never use. I told an American friend of mine that I didn’t like “Hey” in an email a while ago. He replied immediately with the line “Hey, Phil. That’s fine.” I thought it was deliberate, a joke even, until I replied with “Hi Mike” because he hates being called “Mike”. He then asked me why the heck (or words to that effect) I was calling him Mike. Careful with jokes and, particularly, sarcasm by email is my advice, but that’s a separate topic.
Before email, most letters used to begin with “Dear”, although a Great Aunt used to begin “My Dear” to me, but irritatingly “My Dearest” to my sister. I don’t think that Dear works in an email too often. It smacks of a complaint – Dear Sir/Madam, I am most dissatisfied with your……. However, I fall back on “Dear” when I am not sure or when the recipient has already written to me using “Dear”. Occasionally, I have accidentally broken an email exchange using “Dear” with my usual “Hi”. And, then, I have often found that the ice is broken and that all emails have started to begin with “Hi”. “Dear” comes over a bit too formal in most cases, but it has its place where you don’t know the person you are writing to at all or where “Hi” seems a bit too informal.
I used to have a client who used “Hello” as his introduction on every email. I never really liked it. I reserve “Hello” for people I meet face to face at your home or in the street - or even in a public toilet. More embarrassingly and, arguably, curiously, when I was in a daydream, I walked into a ladies’ toilet recently and was greeted with “Hello” by a large lady of 70 years plus who was drying her hands. I turned quickly just as another lady was emerging from a cubicle and for the only time in my life found myself muttering “Hello” with my back to the intended recipient whilst moving quickly. In terms of email contact, “Hello” doesn’t seem quite right when read at a time when you can’t immediately reply.
Some emails just begin with your name or no greeting at all – just straight into the email content. For some reason, I am less offended by that than other people seem to be. I only go straight into the email with no greeting when there are a series of emails that have become more like the way we use text messages.
No. Just, no. No discussion necessary.
Endings seem easier. “Best regards” seems to be the market leader, although I favour “All the best” to people I know well. There does seem to be more choice though as “Kind regards”, “Best wishes” and just “Regards” all seem to be equally acceptable. “Yours sincerely” and “Yours faithfully” hark back to the days when people put pen to paper, but have their place as long as you don’t get your “sincerely” and “faithfully” confused.
As for Johnny, he signed off with “Goodbye. Let’s keep in touch, Johnny”. I must admit that I only noticed the ending when re-reading the email just before writing this article. Sadly for Johnny, I will not be keeping in touch, although I might try to sell him my 365/24 Plus Plus service. In fact, now I’ve thought of the idea, I am very tempted to write back to him. If I get a reply, I will update this blog.