We all use email but how many actually know how to address an email well? Knowing the ethics and the right way of addressing emails is crucial when it comes to official business where wrongly addressing a recipient might disqualify you or make you seem incompetent.

We will look at firstly the ethics involved in email communication before delving to how to correctly address an unknown recipient in an email. Having the basics of email etiquette will help you fully appreciate the right addressing format. 

Ethics To Consider In A Professional Email

When it comes to professional email, you have to be a lot more formal than in writing normal emails. The rule that regulates the type of emails you send out is called Email etiquette. It helps you to avoid sending extraneous and irrelevant informative emails. In other words, it teaches you how to communicate appropriately.  

With these simple rules below, you would know the Dos and Don’ts in a professional email.

1. Use A Professional Email Address.

If you are using your own personal email address for employment activities, make sure that the email conveys your full name; an example is emmanuelayamga@gmail.com

It is more appropriate for professional use. Unlike the use of nicknames, handles, obscure references or initials such as neroboy@gmail.com or kofiflex@gmail.com.

If you work in a company, you should use the company’s email address. It is good to have two separate email addresses, one for personal use and the other for business or work purposes.  It will allow you to keep unrelated and personal email messages from business correspondence.

For professional use, make sure your email account is signed to Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail since they are the most popular. 

2. Choose Proper Email Salutations

Avoid colloquial styles of salutations, as if you are catching up with an old friend especially in emails. This includes informal salutations such as ‘Hey’What sap’ or ‘Yo’ in a professional email setting. They are too relaxed and inappropriate. Also, your recipient would have a bad impression about you.

If you want to go a bit lighthearted, you could use ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ when addressing your recipient. There is more to email greeting than just hello or hi and so on. As you read further into the article, we would address which email salutations you should use.

3. Keep a Professional Tone

When it comes to emails, it’s difficult to know how you are being perceived. You can be personable but still remain professional. You need to avoid situations where your words could be misinterpreted or miscommunicated due to cultural differences, especially in your emails. 

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Also, avoid humour if you want your message to be taken seriously. Your message could be lost without the right tone or facial expressions. Oftentimes, words spoken and perceived as funny are different when written. Also avoid using negative phrases or extreme words especially when intended otherwise because they make you seem annoyed, worried or anxious.

4. Use Well-defined And Short Subject Lines

It is advisable to have a clear descriptive subject line. It will differentiate your email from the others. And it also gives your recipient information on what your email is about before they read your message.


It should have a maximum of six words and must be very short. Your subject line must be written with precision and free from humour. 

Subject lines must be written boldly. This helps in easy identification especially if the recipient has a lot of emails flooding the inbox. If you don’t have a subject line or you have but it doesn’t give your recipient an idea of the contents of your email, there is a high chance that your email won’t be read.

5. Check Your Paragraph Length.

An email length can be very challenging especially when there is no character count. Avoid lengthy paragraphs, as such six to ten paragraphs.  A maximum of five paragraphs should be your email message. With four sentences in each paragraph. 

And make sure the email states clearly the purpose of your message. Since your subject line gives your reader a hint, the purpose body of the email would only give a defined and accurate explanation.

Note that, if you have a lot to say, communicate it through other channels. An email message isn’t a phone chat that you can talk on for hours till your phone goes dead. 

When it is too lengthy it puts the recipient off. Be informative and avoid being emotional.

6. Choose Your Punctuations Carefully.

Be mindful of the punctuations you use in your email. Every sentence should have the appropriate terminal punctuation marks; be it a question mark (?), full stop (.), Comma (,), an Exclamation mark (!), or semicolon (;). 

Use exclamation marks as sparingly as you use question marks. Exclamation marks are considered unprofessional. So it is best you avoid using them. 

Use semicolons (;) where you want to connect two sentences related and comma (,) as a conjunction to connect independent clauses. 

Question marks (?) are used at the end of questionable statements and a full stop at the end of every sentence. 

An example: Have you spoken to the HR department? If they are willing to negotiate to the terms of conditions, there would be an increase in their allowances.

7. Proofread Your Message Before You Send The Email.

Before hitting the send button, check for spelling mistakes, subject-verb agreement and other grammatical errors. 

Check your sentence case. Use the standard font size of 12 and font type of Calibri, Times New Roman or Arial. Avoid wacky or multicoloured fonts with colours that would hurt one’s eyes that require glasses before they could read the message. 

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Always use the standard colour which is black, do not use bold or italic frequently. Avoid mistakes that your reader will definitely catch on. Don’t use emojis, abbreviations or add ‘sent from my phone’ caveat in your email. It is highly unprofessional and gives a bad perception of you. 

Lastly, check if there’s a signature block if you have entered the correct recipient’s name and email address before hitting on the ‘send’ button.

How to Address an Email to an Unknown Person

Whether or not you know the name or gender of the recipient, it is important to know which salutation is appropriate. It will determine if the recipient keeps reading your email or not. In this section of the article, we would identify the best ways to go about such situations and avoid the case of sending what you did not intend, to the unknown person.

Here are some tips to consider when sending an email to an unknown person;

1. Address The Recipient By The Name

The best greeting to use when writing a professional email is to address the recipient by his or her name. If you do not know the person’s gender, you could try and find out the details of the person you are sending your email to from the company.

For instance, you could use ‘Dear [First Name]’ or ‘Dear [Last Name]’ but not after multiple email exchanges. Also, it is a bit old fashioned and less formal. Therefore, a polite and modernized way to address your recipient should be, ‘Dear [title-Mr./Mrs./Miss] First Name’ or ‘Dear [title-Mr./Mrs./Miss] Last Name.’

In other words, ‘Dear Mrs Catherine’ or ‘Dear Mr Jones. This way, you sound more formal than the old fashioned tone. 

For an email exchange, you could respond by addressing him or her with the name they used in their previous email to you. 

2. To An Unknown Gender

This is the most difficult part when writing a formal email. If you can’t get the name of your recipient, you could use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ since it is less personal and polite. It has been frequently used in an African context. It is neutral, so it can be used even if you don’t know the gender of the recipient. 

But if you know the gender of the recipient, you could use either ‘DearMadam or DearSir’ depending on whether it’s he or she. It is also one of the best options to use when it comes to both professional emails and formal letters.

3. Using Job Titles

This is applicable when you know the job title of the recipient. You should make use of job titles that match with the recipient position. For instance, ‘Dear Human Resource Manager’ or ‘To the HR Manager’. This tells the recipient that you are well aware of the position they hold and gives you extra credit when it’s for job applications.

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You could also use the company’s name if you don’t know the title of the recipient. A clear example is, ‘Dear Incorp Company.’ This shows that the email is intended for the company. This portrays the message that you know about the company of the recipient and this also gives you scores especially if it’s for a job application.

4. A Generic Email Address

In case you are emailing to a generic email address, you could use ‘To Whom It May Concern’. It sounds passive and a bit aggressive; depending on the context it’s been used. In some cases, the recipient might believe it doesn’t concern them and discontinue reading. 

It’s fine to use it when writing cover letters for jobs applications because it’s very impersonal. But if it’s intended for office emails you might want to add ‘Thankyouforyourtime’ in the sentence to soften the tone.

5. Using Less Formal Salutations

Under no circumstance, should you use ‘Hi [Name]’, ‘Greetings to [Name]’ or ‘Hi There’ or ‘Hello There,’ These are not the best options to address emails to an unknown person especially when you are trying to remain formal. You could use them if you know the recipient and if it is for an informal content.

When you want to remain less formal or strict, you should go with ‘Hello [Title] Name,’ or Hi [Title] Name.’ In other words, ‘HelloMrJames’ or ‘HiMrsLaura.’ These are simple and light ways to begin your email messages. If your recipient is a woman and you are unsure if she is married in order to know which title to use, it best you use ‘Ms, this covers both married and unmarried women.


Using professional salutations is very important because it’s the first thing the recipient sees in your email. This does not mean you should begin your email beautifully and end it horribly, leaving a sour taste in your recipient’s mouth. Using the right email closing line and sign-offs leaves the right impressions since it’s the last thing your recipient reads. 

You could end with ‘Thank you’, ‘Thank you for your time’, ‘looking forward to working with you’, ‘Have a wonderful day’ or ‘Looking forward to our next conversation’, as your closing lines.  And with good sign-offs such as ‘Sincerely,’ ‘With Regards or Kind Regards’, ‘Yours Faithfully’, ‘Respectfully’ or ‘Cordially, then your signature block and your full name.

The use of any of these closing lines and sign-offs would complement your salutation and email message. And it’s likely to influence a quick and positive response.

What are your tips on email etiquette and how you address emails to an unknown audience? 

Five Key Takeaways;

  1. Choose your subject line wisely. It must be short and concise.
  2. Use professional Greeting, closing lines and sign-offs.
  3. Stay friendly, formal and avoid sarcasm throughout your message. 
  4. Check your grammar, punctuation and spellings. 
  5. Frequently check and reply to your emails promptly.

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