Dear Uncommon Courtesy,
I work at a job where I email a horde of people from different fields and professions: from professors to ambassadors to CEO’s to journalists, etc. I’ve got basic professional email language down, what gets me is the salutation. I know there’s a movement to get rid of the salutations and signature, but that doesn’t quite work for formal professional correspondence. Obviously you start off with the most honorific/formal, but then it changes based on their response/signature, right? I think rule of thumb says to reply back using how they sign off (Sarah, Professor Higgenbottom, Admiral McGee), but how do you handle it if they sign off with their full name? Do you revert to the more formal form again? Do you use the full name? (that sounds awkward). Do you refer to a former ambassador still as “Ambassador” or is it “Sir”? It’s a little thing that trips me up every so often.
Too Many Names
“Dear Mr. / Madam Ambassador:” is the correct opening for a letter/email. We don’t see anything about a former ambassador, but we would guess they revert back to Mr/Ms. Professors should be addressed as Dr. if they hold a doctorate, though Professor is fine if you aren’t sure. We couldn’t find anything about when to drop formal titles, but following the lead of the professionally superior person is always a good rule of thumb.
Jaya: Alright, so, this is, like, a million questions.
Victoria: Like she says, the basic rule of thumb is that you follow their lead in however they sign off. But I think what happens a lot is people automatically write their first and last name.
Jaya: Yeah, I do think it serves as a signature.
Victoria: But then, maybe in subsequent emails they will just be like -John or whatever. And that allows you to use their first name.
Jaya: So yesterday, I was emailing with a former volunteer here and I responded with just her first name, because in the last email she wrote “Dear Jaya” and not “Dear Ms. Saxena.”
Victoria: Right yeah, if they are calling you by your first name right away, you can probably do so too. Usually you are working together and not in a superior/inferior relationship anyway, so it seems strange, to me, to use Mr/Ms for too long. I’ve tried to drop it, personally, as it makes me feel very young. I think in my first couple of experiences with grown up work, I tried calling people Mr/Ms (in actual conversation) and figured out how weird that was very quickly.
Jaya: Yeah. I think if they have a title, continue to use their title. But if it’s a superior/normal person, hopefully they’ll respond with a first name
Victoria: Yeah, I definitely don’t think you should revert to a more formal title if you’ve already used an informal one.
Jaya: Totally not. But yeah, if someone signs Franklin Higglebottom, I think you can do “Mr. Higglebottom,” or “Franklin,” depending on how they’ve addressed you.
Victoria: Right. I definitely think you shouldn’t address someone by their full name. Saying Dear Mr. Franklin Higglebottom sounds like spam.
Jaya: What if…you don’t know if it’s a man or a woman? This happens to me all the time. I’m constantly Mr. Saxena.
Victoria: Awww. I think for many people, you would be able to look that up? Google their name- ambassadors should be pretty high profile and professors and such (for this PARTICULAR reader).
Jaya: Oh yeah I mean, those people you can Google. I meant like, random colleagues you’ve never met but who you need to email. Or if you’re applying to a job, something like that.
Victoria: In that case i might just use their first name. Once, I was applying for an internship and the person’s name was Stephan, but some how I read it as Stephanie, so that’s how I addressed him. I got the internship anyway.
Jaya: Hahahahaha. Did you apologize or acknowledge your mistake?
Victoria: Nope. I think people are generally pretty cool with this kind of thing
Jaya: Usually. Though I need to be less forgiving when people call me “Jay.” I wrote my name in the past email guys you should know it. “Jaya” is not a typo of “Jay.”
Victoria: Hahah yeah, that’s totally different. Sometimes I get addressed as Ms Pratt and sometimes Victoria in emails and I don’t really care. I do get a weird buzz when someone calls me Ms Pratt because I do not entirely feel like a grown up yet.
Jaya: Hahahaha, adulthood buzz.
Victoria: It’s like, ohhh they are emailing me and thus they don’t really KNOW that I am an imposter.
Jaya: They don’t really know that I’m actually a 7 year old with my mom’s iPhone, muahahahahaha.
Victoria: You have a remarkably good grasp of etiquette for a 7 year old.
Jaya: Hahahahaha. I think mainly, do your best to follow their lead, and be forgiving if someone messes up but is still obviously trying I mean if they keep misspelling your name or saying “sup lady” when you’re the Queen, that’s a problem. But if someone calls you Victoria instead of Ms. Pratt it should really be fine.
Victoria: Totally. And, like, yeah, if you are emailing an ambassador or the president or something, err on the side of formal. But if it’s a random professor, if they get all upset about how you address them, then they are the jerk. I also think that you can drop all salutations within a couple of emails, especially if you are just writing a sentence or two.