We live in an age of constant communication through multiple channels. Written correspondence can be as full of care and effort as a handwritten letter, or as “sweet and short” as a tweet or a text.
The line between professional vs. personal and formal vs. informal addressing of someone can blur these days. Conversation channels have often changed how we write, but we are still human, and we all appreciate being approached in the correct context of a relationship.
How we open and close our correspondence shows how much we know about the person we're speaking to and why we are contacting them. In today's world of content overload, we as careful writers want to ensure we engage each message and audience with language that fits.
If we're addressing someone we know well, i.e. a friend or a family member, a fail-safe salutation remains Dear (First Name). When sending an email, we usually write Hi, Hello, Greetings, or Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening.
Salutations in personal correspondence are followed with a comma (i.e. Dear Samantha,).
In a phrase (i.e., including more than one word) the norm would be to capitalize all words if it stands alone (i.e. Good Afternoon) and capitalize only the first letter if it includes a personal address (i.e. Good afternoon, George).
The closing phrase in personal written communication depends on the type of relationship and the tone the writer wants to convey. Just a few include:
The first word is typically the only one capitalized in a personal closing; however, we are free to capitalise all words if we want to.
Also note that personal closings are followed by a comma (i.e. Your friend,).
A business relationship can be close or distant, but in either case, we must remain aware of a professional context with proper boundaries and degrees of distance.
The salutation Dear (Name) can be used as the writer sees appropriate in business correspondence. The name can be the recipient's first name, full name, or last name preceded by Mr., Mrs., or Ms. If unsure of a recipient's gender, include the full name and exclude the prefix.
Salutations in business correspondence are followed by a colon (:) if formal or a comma if informal.
In any case, be diligent about spelling names correctly, including a person's use of hyphens and second capital letters (i.e. Mary Perkins-McMurtry as opposed to Mary Perkins Mcmurtry).
Often the salutation can include the person's title. Include the last name if it is known or exclude it if it isn't. This context will almost always be formal.
In today's business communication, we avoid the once-acceptable salutations Dear Sir or Madam and To Whom It May Concern. Such openings suggest the sender did not take the time to learn basic details about the recipient, and this may not make the best first impression.
To finish business correspondence, you can use one of several commonly accepted sign-offs as you believe fit. As with personal messages, first-word capitalization is considered standard.
Just like please and thank you, proper salutations and closings are small and simple investments that can help you reap desired returns.