Salutation and greeting in the letter: small plea for more formality

There are precise guidelines for the layout of a business letter, also with regard to the positioning of the salutation and closing formula. But how should you express yourself in terms of content. We have asked the image consultant and etiquette trainer Imme Vogelsang for advice.

There are precise guidelines for the design structure of a business letter, including the positioning of salutations in the letter. According to the guidelines of the structure of a business letter according to DIN 5008, the salutation follows the subject line at a distance of two blank lines. The closing formula should be separated from the rest of the text in the cover letter with a blank line and end without a period.

So far, so good. But what about the actual content of the salutation and closing formula in the letter? There are no exact specifications for this, only conventions, and these sometimes divide minds. We have therefore sought advice from image consultant Imme Vogelsang.

Imme Vogelsang is image consultant and press spokeswoman of the network "ETI – Etiquette Trainer International".

Good style is what counts

Also for the written communication applies: "For the first impression there is no second chance." To strike the right tone in business correspondence right off the bat, the etiquette expert recommends the following, especially for the First contact with the classic salutation "Dear Sir or Madam" in the letter to start and in this case also to end classically-conservatively with "Kind regards. Most people probably don’t remember "Yours sincerely" and "Yours sincerely" has not been used for 20 years now. By the way, it makes for salutation and closing formula in business correspondence no difference, whether it is the form of address in a letter or an e-mail Imme Vogelsang emphasizes.

Overall, she observes a trend in forms of address toward less adherence to conventions, which sometimes culminates in "Guten Tag dear Imme Vogelsang" – from people you don’t know at all. What sounds nice to the one, sounds rude and aloof in the ears of our etiquette expert. She suspects that the sender wants to sound more modern or youthful by doing this. However, the target group is often neglected in the process. Vogelsang comments:

"Young people in the start-up scene may find such phrases unproblematic, but in most old-established companies such things are still an absolute no-go."

Provided you already know each other personally and there is a relationship of trust, it is perfectly possible to address them as "Dear XY". The closing formula can then be freely chosen, only the formal "Kind regards" is not applicable. You can then send "many, warm, sunny greetings to or from", just as it suits your personal style.

When selecting the appropriate salutation and closing formula, it should be kept in mind that some cover letters also forwarded to other colleagues and departments have to. For this reason alone, a formal level of communication may be advisable.

Especially in university training courses, Imme Vogelsang reports, professors are increasingly complaining about the impolite written communication style of many students. Instead of "Hello Professor XY" or even just "Hello Professor XY", it’s better to say "Hello Professor XY".", the correct written form of address is namely "Dear Professor XY" or "Dear Professor XY". There is no longer a "Ms. Professor. The name must be appended. "Hello" is not an appropriate form of address in this or any other professional context, unless you are on first-name terms or the sender has specified this form of address.

The rank decides the order

If we want to address several people with a letter, the question quickly arises as to whom we should name first in the salutation. Perhaps our contact person, with whom we have the most to do? In this case, the addressee who receives the Highest ranking position takes, as the first is called. This also applies if we address ladies and gentlemen in the salutation of the letter. If the gentleman occupies a higher position than the lady, the gentleman is thus called first. If we address several addressees, the salutations should be listed one below the other.

Write to known business partners

Sometimes you might also ask yourself how to address someone in a letter with whom we have a good, perhaps even long-standing business relationship. There is a certain level of trust because you have already spoken in person on one or the other occasion. Is it now appropriate to begin a business letter with "Dear Sir/Madam"?? The answer is that this is possible. However, it is to be expected that our cover letter will have to be forwarded to other departments as an attachment to a business transaction, such as an invoice, and may end up as a tax document that auditors will also see one day, we should give priority to more formal forms of address. Our business partner will surely understand this. In this context, it is often recommended to add a handwritten "Dear Mrs/Mr". This is a nice idea, but it leads to the same problem – and makes the letter even more personal.

Formality is the order of the day

However, it can be part of the style or corporate behavior of a company to deviate from the classic form of address already in the first contact. Especially in creative industries such as advertising or in innovative industries such as IT with a particularly high number of start-ups, there is a trend to appear less formal in written communication as well. This begins with using duden already in the initial contact, both written and verbal. However, it would be correct to first ask in a friendly manner whether the respective interlocutor agrees with this style of communication. Because there are still enough industries in which formality is part of the good tone, or as etiquette trainer Imme Vogelsang puts it:

"It is always better to formulate something too formally than too quickly too personally."


According to the etiquette trainer Imme Vogelsang, you should especially in the initial contact – whether by mail or letter – on the classic "Dear Sir or Madam" fall back. For the greeting formula she recommends the harmless "Kind regards". If you want to write more loosely, always keep in mind that your letter may also be attached to official documents. This should influence your style somewhat. Helpful tips on how to structure your business letters and mailings can also be found on our business letters page.

What do you think? Write us your opinion. What experience have you had with greetings. What is currently "in" and what alternative is there to the "best regards"?

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