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Speaking Your Readers’ Language

Yesterday a woman who lives in India, whom I will call Bala, participated in my online class How to Write Email That Gets Results. She told me that at her company a typical opening sentence of an email is this: "I hope this email finds you well." Bala wanted to know whether such an opening sentence was appropriate when sending email to US clients. 

What do you think? Is "I hope this email finds you well" an effective way to begin a business email?

In its favor, the sentence is courteous. But it doesn’t speak the language of a US or Canadian audience, in my experience. 

Rather than opening with a sentence about finding you well, business writers in the US and Canada are much more likely to dive into the subject of the email after greeting the reader by name with a "Hi," "Hello," or sometimes “Dear.”

If the writer and reader have not communicated lately, a sentence such as "I hope you are doing well" or "I hope you are enjoying this spring weather" is the US and Canadian equivalent of Bala's example. (I have emails with those opening sentences in my inbox.)

But “I hope you” sentences are not normally used in email to strangers. Those messages are likely to begin with "Dear" and the person's name, followed by a sentence about the reason for the email.  

Bala is wise to want to use her readers’ language and style. Doing so will create comfort and build trust with people across many thousands of miles.

I would like to create comfort too. For my blog readers around the world, I would like to write a post about how to communicate sympathy and caring to Japanese friends and business associates, in light of the suffering and anxiety caused by the earthquake and tsunami. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough experience with Japanese culture to know whether such messages are appropriate and if they are, which words would best express heartfelt sentiments in the face of such tragedy.

If you are or know an expert in Japanese culture, would you send me an email and share your advice? My address is

I hope to do my best to speak my readers’ language. I will appreciate your help.

UPDATE: In response to readers' requests, on July 18, 2012, I published a blog on opening sentences for email. You can find it here:

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

42 comments on “Speaking Your Readers’ Language”

  • Dear Lynn, I write (in English) for Japanese clients. When communicating, in Japanese especially, there is more of a tendency to open communication with a comment about the weather, beauty of the season, etc. In communicating for business in English, my experience is that clients use a more American approach, getting right to the point, politely.
    During this tragedy, if your instinct tells you to reach out with messages of concern, condolence, and wishes for well-being, please do so. You will never insult someone by doing the human and humane thing. Also, Japanese people are so kind and polite, I believe they will always make allowances for things we Westerners do that strike them as awkward or impolite when they know we are acting sincerely with good intentions.

  • It’s a really interesting issue you raise, Lynn, and likely to become more prevalent as communication and business become more and more globalised.

    I have an Indian colleague who starts emails “Dear Joe, hope you are fine.” I find this trivial and banal and I suspected it was a cultural mode of expression. Good to get confirmation of that!

    Recognising your audience and, importantly, what they know about the subject and your chosen language, especially when you don’t have a real-time feedback loop, is crucial to getting your message across effectively.

  • Just to add more perspectives.

    I’m from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and an opening sentence like the one you described is frequently used among people who had some sort of previous contact, no matter it was superficial or just business.

    An opening clause (in Spanish, of course) like “Hi, ¿how are you? I hope you’re doing well, etc.” is perceived by many as friendly and most probably will find an email going straight to business a bit blunt.

  • I should add to my comment above. Rereading it, I sound like some cloven-hoofed monster!

    If my Indian colleague opens emails to Indian people — or to Argentinians, it seems — with “Dear So-and-so, hope you are fine.” he is fitting in to *their* cultural context. That’s a good thing.

    My beef is when he uses that same intro in a business email to native English-speakers, when I think it becomes inappropriate to the receivers’ cultural context.

    In saying that, I also applaud my colleague for coming to a culturally and linguistically different country and creating a life for himself. What a courageous thing to do. I am a native of an English-speaking culture (Australia) and I haven’t moved outside of that cultural comfort zone — apart from visiting Queensland for holidays (Aussies will get the joke!).

  • Terry, thank you for your comment–and your comment on it!

    I agree that we should applaud people who communicate in English as a foreign language. They are reaching across multiple barriers to create and sustain good business relationships. We should also accept their stylistic differences and attempt to accommodate them in our replies.

    I appreciate your Aussie joke–thanks for giving us outsiders a hint.


  • Sebasaduriz, thank you for providing a hispanic perspective. I appreciate knowing that an email that starts with business rather than pleasantries is likely to be perceived as blunt in Argentina.


  • I am really intrigued by this post because I actually use “I hope this email finds you well” as my opening sentence fairly often- and I am an American (and in case you’re wondering, my parents are also Americans, and I have never lived outside of the US.) Does this mean I’m not speaking my own language?? Haha;-)
    I don’t feel comfortable immediately jumping in to business after a simple greeting- I find it too curt and almost inconsiderate, and I wanted something different than the common “I hope you are doing well.”

  • Hi, LisaMarie. To me, the expression is a bit odd and old-fashioned, although I am used to it from people outside the US, and I do not fault them for using it.

    I do not recommend using “I hope this email finds you well” in the US if you want to communicate professionally. There is nothing wrong with writing “Dear _____” or “Hi _____” and then getting into your subject.


  • Lynn-

    Thanks for your reply. As I wrote in my first comment, though, I am simply not comfortable jumping right into business after writing “Hi ____”. I think it is rude and so I will not do it.

    I’d be interested to hear if you have any other recommendations for opening sentences besides “I hope you’re doing well.”

  • Dear Lynn,

    Thank you so much for this blog. It has helped me a lot.

    I have a question and I hope you’ll enlighten me on this. Is it appropriate to use ‘we were wondering if you’d be interested in…’ in business writing?

    Someone had told me that ‘wonder’ has connotations of ‘doubt’, and shouldn’t be used in business writing because ‘it’s rude to doubt your customer.’

    I mostly just use ‘we would like to know…,’ but my colleagues seem to find it dull.

    Could you shed some lights? Thank you.

  • Hi, Tanya. “We were wondering if you’d be interested in” is not wrong as long as you put a period (full stop) at the end of the statement. Sometimes people think “We were wondering” sentences are questions, but they are not.

    “We were wondering” does not show doubt about your customer.

    In the context of your message, you may be able to find a more concise, positive way of saying the same thing. Consider “We’d like to suggest” or “We think this _____ may be an excellent fit for you.”

    Good luck!


  • I work in a Correspondence Unit for a municipal office and my supervisor along with other colleagues have mocked my informal email salutation because I use “Hi, Lynn.”
    Is this form of salutation incorrect or unpopular?

    Looking forward to your response.



  • Gianluca, I recommend you follow your supervisor’s direction if you are writing to customers. “Hi, Lynn” is friendly. Your supervisor may want you to be more formal.

    I have written many blog posts on salutations. Just type “salutation” into the search bar at upper right.

    Good luck!


  • I came across this blog trying to determine if using words like “we’d or you’d” are now acceptable in business communication as I believe them to be grossly unprofessional. With texting and chatting replacing everything these days, it seems that these abbreviated words are now the norm. Where did our professionalism go?!

    With that said, I am now distracted by the initial posting of starting an email with “I hope this finds you well”. I have been in Sales for 20 years and always start my emails with this sentence to a customer I have had previous contact with. I am fully American, blah blah. Especially in Customer Service positions you are relaying a sincere thought of their well being. Please explain to me why this is odd or not for American business? I suppose me using “Would you be so kind to contact me regarding . . .” is also odd, as I am being polite.

    I am 37, not 77. Even in this day and age of immediate gratification and A.D.H.D adults, I still think it merits the two seconds to be courteous and thoughtful.

    Take care,


    (Yes, I sign all of my emails with take care and it does get noticed in a positive light).

  • Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for commenting and asking for clarification.

    Like you, I believe that being courteous and thoughtful is an important part of communication. I strive to be courteous and thoughtful in everything I write.

    The thing about expressions we have always used is that we rarely examine them to decide whether they fit the message. If you always use “I hope this finds you well” to customers with whom you have had previous contact, as you said you do, then I suggest that the sentence is a rote habit rather than a sincere communication with the reader. If you regularly use that phrase, your customers may even recognize it as a habit rather than something you are consciously writing to them as individuals.

    Beyond that, “I hope this finds you well” is stilted rather than natural. It is not the way we would talk to someone, even in a professional setting. So why communicate in writing that way?

    Yes, sometimes writing is different from speaking. For example, “Dear” is a standard part of the greeting in business letters and even some emails, yet we never use “Dear” in professional speech. There may be an argument that “I hope this email finds you well” is, like “Dear,” a standard opening. I would rather use an opening that is more natural and specific to the message and the audience.

    Again, I appreciate your taking the time to comment.


  • Hi Lynn,

    The blog is very useful for me. I normally use ” Hope this mail will find you in good health and spirit” and I believe it creates a comfortable situation taking the rest of the mail.

    your comments please….

  • I usually go with the opening sentence ‘Dear xxx, Trust you are well’ I’ve always gotten a reply so I’m thinking it works.

  • Hello Lynn,

    I found your blog very nice and useful. I got negative answer from a company and I would like to kindly ask them for reasons. They have politely answered on my application in the morning but I have missed an explanation. Could you please be so kind and enlightened me with the explanation:
    Could you please be so kind and explain (to?) me criteria for an interview invitation? or
    Would you kindly explain me criteria for an interview invitation?

    Thank you in advance.

  • Hello, Ann Bann.

    Of your choices, this one is best:

    Would you kindly explain to me the criteria for an interview invitation?


  • Hello, James. I would probably use it as an email greeting one of two ways:

    Greetings and holiday wishes!


    Lynn, greetings and holiday wishes to you!

    I would not use a comma, which seems bland after such a greeting.

    I hope I have answered your question.


  • Hello, Lynn
    Hope this message will find you well.
    I normally find lack of formal words which are easy to understand globally
    as i have to write email to every corner of the world, can you suggest me, how can i improve this and prepare myself with appropriate bag of words which are accepted Globally.
    Thank you
    Ravi (Stylobhardwaj)

  • I use, I hope you will find this email in good health.

    May I know is it correct or okay to use this line in every email of the day. I mean just as we have our standard signature?

    Thank you
    Best regards
    Pushpendra Pandya

  • quote
    But “I hope you” sentences are not normally used in email to strangers. Those messages are likely to begin with “Dear” and the person’s name, followed by a sentence about the reason for the email.

    after reading your point b/m , I clicked

    and saw many ‘hope’ mentioning your opening sentences.

    To be honest , I am a bit confused about how to start to an official email.

    if you help me out, that will be appreciated for sure.


  • Hello, G.S. The blog post you linked to had suggestions for opening sentences in emails to people you know.

    If you are writing to a stranger, I recommend the advice you quoted:
    “Those messages are likely to begin with ‘Dear’ and the person’s name, followed by a sentence about the reason for the email.”

    So the answer depends on whether you know your reader.

    I hope that information helps.


Comments are closed.