It seems to be that “Dear Abby” is a thing of the past.
It’s true that snail mail is now more fun to get than emails just because it happens so infrequently, but do we need to keep the formal greetings of a letter when we compose an email?
The spokeswoman for US Congressman Ed Markey emailed a group of reporters and started off saying, “Hey folks.” The Wall Street Journal was taken aback by her informal greeting of people she’d never met but realized that her greeting could be the sign of an ending of the centuries-old written tradition. “Across the internet, the use of ‘dear’ is going the way of old sealing wax,” the newspaper wrote.
“‘Dear…’ is a bit too intimate and connotes a personal relationship,” spokeswoman Giselle Barry told the paper. In her career she finds it important to maintain “the utmost and highest level of professionalism” and as such, sees no need for old-fashioned graces.
We may not be to the stage of professionalism, but does our status as students affect how we begin our emails?
Freshman Kori Heidebrink separates her e-mail greetings into three categories according to whom she’s writing: friends, faculty she works with and faculty whom she’s never met. “When I write emails to my friends, or maybe even a group of people in a project, I usually try to make it pretty informal by saying something like, ‘Hi all’ or ‘Hey!’”
This seems to be the general consensus on campus for student-to-student messages. The first e-mail may even be the only one that requires a greeting or introduction as sophomore Tyler Zeutenhorst pointed out. “I usually say ‘hello’ if I’m talking to my friends but I don’t say ‘hey’ until we’ve replied back and forth several times.”
Sometimes students in a back-and-forth correspondence can even get to the point of just typing the body of the message – with no “hi” or “bye” used at all.
When students approach faculty and staff via e-mail, the greetings depend on the relationship as well as what the professor expects to be called. Heidebrink said, “When I email a professor or someone I plan on interviewing I usually say, ‘Hello Prof. Lundberg.’” When I email my advisor or another teacher, I usually email them by their first name or nickname like, ‘Hey Scorza’ or Hello Lila.”
“I think the most common greeting I use is a simple ‘hello,’” said junior Glory Benson. “This would be used when the person I’m emailing is an authority figure, but I haven’t necessarily met them in person. Otherwise I use ‘Dear [insert name]’ which is used when there’s still some formality to the e-mail – someone that deserves respect.”
Senior Ross Fernstrum would agree. When it’s not someone he’s comfortable calling by their first name he typically uses “Professor. I just stick to what I feel offers respect.” As an RA in the Plexes, he likes to have fun with the students he looks after and change it up every once in awhile. “I also send out emails that begin like this: ‘Dear Beloved Residents of CYSV (Courtyard Village South).’ This is a more comical greeting. I use it for a change of pace for myself more than anything.”
It seems clear that we have free range with our greetings when we’re e-mailing friends or classmates, but the line between knowing professors and just meeting them for the first time becomes murky when deciding what email greeting is most appropriate.
As a rule of thumb, greet a faculty or staff in the same manner in which they have signed their e-mail. This only becomes a problem when you need to make the initial contact. In that case, we can heed the advice of etiquette guru Jean Broke-Smith. She said, “Introducing an e-mail is a lot like arriving at a party. Better to be overdressed. Then you can always take off the pearls.”
Be cautious of all of your word choices in emails you send, whether it is greetings, body or sign-offs. Broke-Smith admitted that “we are losing the art of letter writing. E-mails are becoming like texts. If we don’t get a handle on it, future generations won’t be able to spell at all.”
Take opportunities of communication to impress your professors rather than upset them.