Have you ever found yourself looking blankly at the computer screen, wondering how to begin an email?

Yes, we have too because we know just how important that first impression can be. How you begin an email can make or break the relationship with your reader.

You don’t want to put them off by being over-formal, but you don’t want to be over-friendly either.

If you don’t know the person you’re writing to, it can be a real challenge to pick the right words.


Don’t strike a bum note

Here at Clear Eye, we’ve seen too many clients turn off potential customers by striking a bum note at the start of an email.

CEO and managing director Margaret Ward explains: “You might think it’s a waste of time to stop and think about how you start an email, but it’s really important to get the tone of voice right.”

How you begin an email says a lot about who you are, and it will shape the reader’s perception of you, she says.

First impressions count

“Make sure to make the right first impression. You don’t want to be too informal. ‘Hey’ is definitely too casual for a business email but, at the same time, you don’t want to build a brick wall of formality by writing something like ‘Dear sir or madam’,” Margaret says.

A guide to email greetings

Confused? There’s no need to be. The next time you find yourself hesitating at your inbox, just consult the Clear Eye guide to email greetings, below.

How to start an email

Hi [name]: Even if you don’t know a person, this is a failsafe way of starting an email. If you want to sound a little more formal, you can say Hi [Mr/Mrs surname].

Hey [name] or simply ‘Hey’: Far too casual for business emails. It’s fine for friends but, be warned, it might even annoy them.

As Will Schwalbe writes in Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do it Better: “I can never get out of my head my grandmother’s admonition, ‘Hey is for horses’.”

Hello [name]

This is a good start. It’s informal but not overly so.

Dear [name]

Avoid in an email. It’s too formal and can be off-putting.

To whom it may concern

Don’t use under any circumstances. It’s far too formal, much too vague – you’re admitting you don’t know who you’re writing to – and too easy for the reader to ignore.


Too abrupt and general. The reader is very likely to delete it.

Avoid the ‘letter’ pitfall

Once you’ve got the greeting right, don’t make a common mistake with the body of the email. Many people think the rules for letters apply to emails. They don’t. Letters are very formal and have a set format. Emails are more like a short conversation and the tone is more informal.

Need help?

If you need more advice about writing emails, we can help. Clear Eye runs tailor-made workshops designed to show your employees how to write emails that get read. Get in touch with Margaret at margaret@cleareye.ie