How to address and sign-off official emails

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Deciding how to address an email is easier when you are sending a reply. Because, when replying an email, it’s safest to match the sender’s tone and level of formality, especially if they are a client. If you receive a “Hello Ms Quarshie” or “Dear Naa” you reply with a “Hello Mr. Mensah” or “Dear Yoofi”. Also, how you sign off is as important and there are a few rules to follow.

Below are the general rules for business correspondence.

Use “Yours Sincerely”   when addressing the recipient by name.  For instance:

Formal opener: Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms/Mx Akoto

Formal closing: Yours Sincerely


Use “Yours Faithfully” when the recipient is not addressed by name. For example:

Formal opener: Dear Madam / To Whom It May Concern

Formal closing: Yours Faithfully

In British English both words are often capitalised, as in ‘Yours Sincerely’ whereas in American English the standard is to only capitalise the first word, for example: ‘Yours faithfully’ or’ Yours sincerely’.

‘Sincerely’ is common way to sign emails to people you don’t know very well. Other forms of salutations and signoffs include:

Yours truly – In British English, Yours truly was historically used when writing to someone of higher status.

You can also write ‘Thanks’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Many thanks’ or ‘Much appreciated’. ‘Thanks’ is however considered to be less formal.

‘Cheers’ is fairly an acceptable way to sign an email to a colleague. It is however considered casual and it is absolutely unacceptable to sign, for example, a sponsorship letter with ‘Cheers’. Like ‘Cheers’, save ‘Warm regards’, ‘Warmly’ and ‘Take care’ for people you’re close to or friendly with.

‘Regards’ is short for ‘Best regards’ or ‘Kindest regards’. ‘Regards’ is considered a less formal and friendlier way to sign an email; it is acceptable between close business colleagues. Similarly, ‘Best’ and ‘All the best’ are less formal. ‘Respectfully’ is a very formal way to sign an email, it also suggests a bit of deference.

What if you want to deviate from the generic “Dear sir/madam”? Then you also have to worry about who is Miss, Mrs, Dr, Mr, or Prof.  I recommend making an actual effort to find out the recipient’s preferred gender or title by goggling or by contacting someone who may know them.

Why Emails Subjects Lines are as Important As the Body of the Email

Whether or not a recipient will open your email depends largely on what the subject is. Unfortunately, spam emails have made it even easier for people to ignore or just delete emails they can’t make an immediate connection with. What gets your mail treated as spam, unimportant, frivolous or insignificant begins at the subject line.
It may seem like an easier option to just leave the subject field blank but that’s a terrible idea. The subject of an email is meant to give the recipient fore-knowledge about the content of the mail.
Never leave the subject field of an official email blank. The subject field should contain a one line summary of the content of the mail. It should be straight to the point and free of embellishments and superlatives. On the other hand, it should not be cryptic or vague, like “The thing you asked me to send.”
It can be a word or phrase that best describes the body of the email, like “Proposal Letter,”“End of Year Report” or “Follow up on Friday’s Meeting.”
It is tempting to write out the subject of a mail in all capital letters. However, writing in all caps is the equivalent of screaming. Unless you are sending an angry email an all caps subject line is best avoided.
You may begin each word with a capital letter or simply stick to a sentence case. Some people go for all capital letters to give the impression of urgency, if this is the case, it is better to begin the subject with “URGENT” or “Urgent” followed by the summary of the content.
Remember to keep email subjects short, straight to the point and relevant to the body of the mail.


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Emails have become the most common form of business communication. They can be conversational and often they do not adhere to rigorous forms and standards of business writing.

Even though emails are not as strict as say, official letters, there is a clear distinction between work emails and personal emails. In the business environment, one sloppy email could mean the loss of major contracts and opportunities, and much more the possible loss of credibility.

Formal emails must follow a structure; they are not just a click-and-go affair. Some common pitfalls for many young professionals include inappropriate subject lines, incoherence, bad punctuation and inappropriate choice of words.


Primarily, emails are intended to communicate a concern or information to colleagues, supervisors, employers, business associates etc. Formal emails cannot be written in shorthand or in “SMS language” regardless of their pseudo-formality.

It will be unfortunate for your employer, client or business associates to say of you that you are incapable of ‘writing a simple email’. Below are 5 simple but important points to consider when sending a formal email:

Subject Line– It is absolutely crucial that you include a subject line in all official emails. Subject lines are the preamble to formal letters; it explains the purpose of your emails to its recipient(s). Emails that do not have subject lines are quite easy to ignore. This is because most professionals have dozens of emails coming through their inbox each day; they will not have the time to comb through your mail in an attempt to figure out the crust of your message.

Addressing the recipient– After making sure that your subject line is not blank, the next important item is how you address the recipient. Addressing your recipient is recognizing that you are talking to an actual person. Imagine how ill-mannered it would be to walk into an office and without greeting, go straight to the matter at hand! More so, make sure you address your recipient appropriately, avoid language like “hey” or “sup.”

Grammar– The use of correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling cannot be overlooked in formal emails. If you use improper or incorrect language, and neglect to re-read your mail before sending, your message may lose clarity and you might also fail to make a good impression on the recipient.

Formatting your email– Emails read a whole lot better when written in shorter sentences and paragraphs.  Don’t send a long jumbled message in a one paragraph email. Make good use of spacing by separating paragraphs with different ideas.

Signing off– It is essential to close off your email by signing off appropriately. Is ‘Cheers’ too casual, or should you stick to the safe but predictable ‘counting on your usual corporation’? Whichever way you choose to sign off, it must be consistent with the general tone and content of the email.

We will, in subsequent posts discuss the details of how to undertake a careful application of each one of these points so your email will have the intended impact.



Business writing is an important, as well as a precise, type of writing that is often guided by specific procedures. As such, it should be approached with the appropriate seriousness, professionalism, precision and vocabulary. We learned last week that the language that characterizes business writing is properly referred to as gravitas.  In the prevailing business environment, it is important to strike a careful balance between gravitas and flexibility. This is because in spite of the seriousness that is often expected to accompany most business writing, one wouldn’t want to come off as rigid or taking oneself too seriously. The seriousness of language should communicate confidence, poise, decisiveness as well as an ability to act under pressure. Similarly, language should be flexible enough to assure your business associates of a  your creativity and innovation.

When treading the tenuous line between gravitas and flexibility, it is important to avoid the usage of non-standard usage of English. A recurrent usage of non-standard English can cause you to come across as ignorant or even worse, as uneducated. What exactly do we mean by ‘non-standard English’? There are a few words and grammatical constructions that are strictly meant for informal usage within the borders of Ghana. Using such constructions instead of standard grammar does not communicate that you are informed about the latest trends or that you are relatable. On the contrary, it can confuse your audience or worse, cause them to think that you are sloppy and inarticulate.
Secondly, when people get to writing business pieces, it is often tempting for them to adopt what George Orwell refers to as ‘operators or verbal false limbs’ such as “render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part etc.” The belief, I think, is that such phrases carry a certain sophistication that is fitting for business. This isn’t always the case as more often than not, these operators makes communication stiff and boring, which may not auger well for business interactions.

In striking a balance between gravitas and flexibility, ask yourself these questions. The answers will help in making you the better communicator you desire to be:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it simply and precisely?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Could I put it more shortly?
  5. Have I said anything that is avoidably informal, vulgar or unnecessary?



Black-businesswomanSome fifty years ago, business writing was characterized by formality and absolute seriousness. One could not write anyhow because sloppiness was an indication to your business associates that you were not ready to be treated with seriousness. The attitude of attaching a high level of seriousness to one’s writing is what is known as gravitas. Gravitas is a noun which means “high seriousness, as in a person’s bearing or the treatment of a subject; seriousness of conduct, bearing, speech, temperament,” etc.

In recent times, gravitas in business writing has witnessed a drastic change. As columnist Rob Walker states, the best way to show potential employers, associates, and clients that you mean business is to show them that you do not take yourself too seriously. People want to see the cool side of you; they do not want a prissy, uptight employee.

This shift in corporate writing should excite a lot of people, shouldn’t it? Who wants to write like a 20th-century British gentleman, after all? But hold on to your excitement. While TV shows, social media, and TV commercials may make fun of gravitas, jobseekers, young entrepreneurs, and public speakers who wish to go get ahead in the business world will master a form of Standard English and know when to use it. Some employers, as well as other business associates, believe that a poor grasp of grammar can translate to carelessness in other areas.

The key is to strike a careful balance between gravitas and flexibility. While our next post takes a closer look at ways to strike this balance, remember this:

You want to connect with your reader; you don’t  want to sound serious just for the sake of sounding serious. Effective writing is all about putting your readers first. Think about their interests and use language that they are more likely to connect with.