Courtesy (1)

In onze Workshops Legal English Writing Skills staan de Branch Out “7 Cs of Writing” centraal. Deze 7 Cs zijn: Clarity, Correctness, Courtesy, Conciseness, Cohesion, Consistency en Completeness (voor een korte beschrijving: zie hiernaast).

Onder de C van Courtesy valt ook de aanhef en afsluiting van correspondentie. Daarover het volgende. Denk eraan: First impressions count!!

Due to the nature of my work, I see an incredible number of emails and letters written by lawyers; usually Dutch native speakers. Despite their impressive level of English, their skill in structuring their letter or email and the sheer range of their vocabulary, there is nearly always a mistake in the salutation and/or close. These mistakes pertain to convention and register. Allow me to share a few:

  • Hi Nicola, – this from somebody who has never met or had any type of contact with me
  • Dear Courtney, – that’s my surname!
  • Dear Nicola Courtney, – first name and surname?
  • Dear Mrs Courtney, – my mother is Mrs Courtney; I’m Ms Courtney …
  • Dear Mr Courtney – this one is usually from Italians, Greeks and Russians as in their language, Nicola is a man’s name
  • Hello! – the writer has obviously dispensed with all forms of formality

When it comes to your business correspondence (letters or emails), you need to make a good impression as this is often compared to a company’s calling card. Remember, you only have one chance to make that good impression which will be invaluable to building future trust and confidence. It takes time and relationship building to determine the formality (or informality) of your tone – not to mention the minefield of cultural differences.

Moreover, there is the prevailing assumption that email by its very nature allows you to be informal in your business correspondence. This is not the case. When sending a business email, you should imagine you are communicating on your company’s letterhead. So my advice is to get it right the first time.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts regarding salutations and closes to get you going. I should point out that these pertain to British English.


  • Do use the client’s surname e.g. Dear Mr Jones. Allow the client to determine the formality or informality of how they should be addresse
  • Do match your close to your salutation e.g.
    – Salutation: Dear Sir/Madam ______ Close with: Yours faithfully
    – Salutation: Dear Nicola __________Close with: Best regards
    – Salutation: Dear Ms Courtney _____ Close with: Yours sincerely*
    (*This is commonly replaced by ‘Best regards’ in emails).


  • Don’t assume all women are married. The preferred form of address for women is the neutral ‘Ms
  • Don’t use a comma (,) after the salutation and close. This is no longer necessary in British English
  • Don’t use a full stop (.) after the titles Mr / Ms / Mrs etc. This is no longer necessary in British English
  • Don’t  use ‘L.S’. This is a Dutch (or rather: Latin) salutation, which English speakers are unfamiliar with. If you do not know the name of the person you are writing to use:
    – Dear Sir (for men)
    – Dear Madam (for women)
    – Dear Sir/Madam OR Dear Sir, Madam (you are unsure of gender)
    – Dear Sirs (for companies)
    (NB: if you use any of the above, you must close withYours faithfully’)

Remember, this blog has focused on British English usage. Watch out for future blogs in which I explain some of the differences between British and American English. Happy writing!

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