Letter and email conventions
Greetings and sign-offs vary depending on the formality of the communication.
Greetings and sign-offs in letters
The conventional greeting is:
Dear Sally (without a comma)
If you don’t know the person, some writers address the person as Mr/Ms or, alternatively, use their full name.
Dear Sally Smith
Dear Ms Smith
In the past, if you didn’t know the name of the recipient, you might address your letter to:
This convention is not used much today. You’re more likely to see something like:
To the householder
Traditionally, letters were signed off with Yours faithfully or Yours sincerely, depending on the writer’s relationship with the person.
Yours faithfully was used in formal letters where the writer did not know the recipient personally. (These letters generally began with the greeting, Dear Sir/Madam or To whom it may concern.)
Yours sincerely was used when the writer knew the person or was writing more informally.
These days, many organisations choose to use Yours sincerely for all letters. Some even sign them off with Kind regards or Regards.
As with the greeting, you do not need any commas after the sign-off.
Greetings and sign-offs in emails
The way you use greetings and sign-offs in your emails depends largely on your relationship with the person you are emailing. Often, you can mimic the style or tone of greeting and sign-off of the person you are emailing.
In emails, the most commonly used greeting is:
However, some writers still choose to use Dear when writing more formal emails to clients, or when addressing a group of people.
Dear Jim Smith
There are several ways of signing off emails. Some of the most common are:
If your email is to a friend or colleague or part of an ongoing conversation, greetings and sign-offs are often dispensed with.
Learn more about styles and usage with my online Grammar, Punctuation and Usage course.
Or learn about email etiquette with emails@work.
And sign up for my monthly e-newsletter to receive writing and editing tips.