Of all the topics that come up during my business writing class, how to write a suitable salutation (or write one at all) often generates the most discussion. The conversation usually heats up when I issue my sharp dictum, STOP using the meaningless salutation, “I hope you’re well.”
This tired and hollow phrase might feel comforting – at least you’re saying something before jumping into the real reason for your message – but I can assure you your reader is skipping over it. If anything, it’s the prelude to asking for a favour.
Even though I believe it’s perfectly acceptable (in a work context) to jump right into the subject of your message, I understand the need to create some kind of warm opening. While you honestly hope your friend or colleague is well, there are so many good alternatives to asking the question that way.
The key is to personalize your intro. Anything goes that’s different from “I hope you’re well.” You’re on the same team as your reader, so why not ask, “Hi, how are things going with the Risk Report?” or if you prefer to keep it general, “I hope you didn’t have to drive anywhere in this storm,” or “Any interesting plans for the long weekend?” It just takes a couple of seconds to think, how can I show I care about this person enough to discard the robotic salutation.
Notes can also feel incomplete without a sign-off. “Sincerely” is reserved for cover letters, “Yours truly” is usually too formal, and “Fond regards” is only suitable for close friends and family. Say something in your close, but short and traditional is fine. “Take care,” “Have a pleasant day,” or a simple “Thanks” are all acceptable.
There are good reasons we struggle with sounding human in our messages – people can’t hear our voice or see our facial expression. But coming up with a few words that show, I care, I’m listening, and I’m grateful for your service is enough.
Thanks for listening!
Have you devised any sure-fire ways of opening and closing your messages? Tell me about them!