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Business writing: How to open and close business correspondence

Business writing: How to open and close business correspondence

First impressions often mean the difference between success and failure. Making a good first impression is particularly challenging when communicating in writing. In business correspondence, the perfect salutation and closing engages the recipient while striking an appropriate balance between formality, friendliness and respect. We share some rules and tips for hitting the right mark, every time.

The first question you need to ask yourself is, am I writing a letter or an email? A business letter is almost always more formal than an email, and the salutation and closing reflect this.

1. Keeping it formal: Greetings and closings for business letters

You can normally open and close a formal business letter in one of the following ways.

If you are writing to a company in general, and not addressing one person in particular:

Greeting: Dear Sirs

Closing: Yours faithfully

Note that ‘Sirs’ is plural, denoting the company as a whole. But - and a very big but - it is almost always better to address your letter to an individual. A little research shows interest and respect. Don’t forget to check the spelling of the recipient’s name very carefully, or your hard work will have been for nothing!

Greeting: Dear Mr. Smith

Closing: Yours sincerely

You can use alternative closings for formal business letters if a more personal approach is required. Regards / Kind regards / Best wishes / Yours respectfully / With sincere thanks may be more appropriate in such a situation.

2. Relaxed yet respectful: How to formulate the perfect greetings and closings for emails

The more informal world of electronic mail makes salutations and sign-offs an altogether more tricky business. A greeting sets the tone for the whole communication.

• If you are writing a formal email to someone you don’t know, it is important to use a name in the salutation wherever possible: Dear Mrs. Smith. In an email, a slightly less formal greeting is also acceptable: Good morning / Good afternoon Mrs. Smith

• If you already have a relationship with the recipient - an external business partner, for example, or the recipient is a senior manager or distant colleague - then Good morning / Good afternoon / Hello are all less formal but nevertheless respectful salutations. You can also personalize the communication: perhaps a reference to a previous discussion: I hope your meeting with (Client name) went well. / It was great to see you at the conference last week.

• For recipients you know pretty well, whether colleagues or external contacts, a far more relaxed greeting is the norm: Hello / Hi / Hi there / Morning, with or without their name. This is often followed by a sentence on a personal note: I hope you had a great weekend/holiday, or perhaps a reference to a previous communication as in the previous example.

3. Maintaining the tone: Appropriate email sign-offs

The degree of formality used for the salutation should be reflected in the tone of the sign-off.

Dear Mrs. Smith / Good morning Mr. Jones - Regards/Kind regards

Hello / Good morning/afternoon - Kind regards / Thanks in advance / I appreciate your help

Hello John / Hi Sarah - Thanks / Thanks for your help / Cheers. Never use the abbreviation ‘Thx’; while acceptable when using a messaging app, it has no place in professional business communication!

These tips will help you to choose the appropriate tone and create a professional impression when selecting salutations and closings for your general business correspondence. Of course, the topic is vast and there are many variables. Specific situations such as cold sales pitches demand a different approach to salutations and closings; a whole new subject for another day!

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