If you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to, start business emails with either of the following:
Dear Madame, is wrong.
If you don’t know whether you’re writing to a man or a woman use:
Dear Sir or Madam,
It is not usual to start an email To whom it may concern. This should be reserved for letters of reference or similar communications when the recipient is an unknown third party.
It is always better to use somebody’s name if you know it. If it is the first time you are writing to someone, use either of the following:
For men: Dear Mr Smith,
For women: Dear Ms Smith,
Once you get to know someone, i.e. after exchanging one or two emails or if you meet them in person, it is usually OK to use their first name.
In UK English we do not add full stops after Mr and Ms. But in US English it is correct to do so. It is also usual to use a colon instead of a comma after the salutation in US business letters:
Dear Mr. Smith:
Dear Ms. Smith:
If you are writing to a man and a woman use Dear Mr Smith and Ms Jones,
Use Dear Sirs, if you are writing to more than one person even if the group of people includes women.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, is wrong. “Ladies and Gentlemen” is only used in formal speech.
Dear Madams, is wrong. Dear Ladies, is best avoided.
If you are writing to more than one woman the strictly correct (though old-fashioned and rather pompous) salutation is Dear Mesdames, but, if possible, it is better to use their names or their title (if they all have the same one) e.g. Dear Directors, Dear Members of the Board,
Once you get to know the group of people you may use the less formal Dear All, for both men and women.
The word Dear may also be omitted in less formal emails. Instead, you may just open with the person’s first name/people’s first names.
The first line of an email or letter should always start with a capital letter:
Dear Mr Smith,
with reference to your email of 25 October…
Dear Mr Smith,
With reference to your email of 25 October…
Here are some example opening sentences for emails:
I hope you enjoyed your holiday and are finding it easy to settle back in to work.
It was good to meet you in [place]. I hope you had a safe journey home.
Thank you very much for your email. I am glad to hear that you and your family are well.
Thank you for your prompt reply.
I apologise for not replying sooner, but I have been very busy these last few weeks.
Thank you for your email of [date]. Please find my reply to your query below.
I am writing with regard to XXXX.
Thank you for getting in touch with us about XXXX. (Less formal, more friendly)
Thank you for contacting us regarding XXXX. (More formal)
With reference to your email of [date], I would like to bring the following to your attention.
As a follow-up to our phone call this morning, I would like summarise the key issues.
Re the question you raised in your previous email, please find my explanation below.
Following our meeting on [date] / in [place], please find below a summary of the points we discussed.
In reply to your query regarding XXXX, I would like to make the following points.
Phrases best avoided:
I hope this email finds you well.
Please be informed that…
Please be advised as follows.
This email concerns…
For more information on writing emails see: How to end emails