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Hi [your name here]!
It's been a long time since we last had a chance to catch up and I really hope you're doing well. Everything is great on my end [. . .]
I'm writing because I really need someone to help me out this week with a project and I was thinking you would be a great option with your experience in this subject [. . .]

I regularly have to edit in these sorts of "pleasantries" or "greetings" or "niceties" at the beginning and end of emails right before I hit send because I always forget them but don't want to sound like I don't care about the person I'm communicating with. I find this is generally more common in emails after a break in communication. The example above is a bit extreme but I often find myself wanting to add something more than simply the name of the person I'm addressing:

  • Happy Monday, hope you had a great weekend!
  • Good morning!
  • Welcome back from your vacation! When you've had time to catch up . . .
  • Thanks for your help!

Yesterday I had a chat with someone and they told me:

In email and other forms of digital communication it's becoming increasingly rude to include such niceties.

I know that email has become a pretty laid-back form of communication but is it now so laid back that I should cut to the chase, get to the point, kill the kindness?

Is there any evidence in the form of a sourced article that these niceties are going the way of the dodo?


I don't want anecdotal evidence for this. Everyone has their own writing style and preference. I want a study that supports either using or not using them. I've found email writing guides that make statements one way or another:

Brazen.com 2014

You wouldn’t walk into a friend’s house for dinner and bark out a command. The same is true for email. Niceties can go a long way.

Pleasantries aren’t dated constructs; they’re valuable warm-up phrases for effective communication. Start your messages warmly, comment on your recipients’ latest achievements and wish them well:

Hope all is well in your corner of the world! If Facebook’s telling me the scoop, it looks like you had an eventful month…

But this article by The Daily Beast in 2011 disagrees:

Niceties, Shmiceties: How E-mail Etiquette Could Be Holding You Back

I started with email, where I had often signed off with a chipper “thanks!” or apologized for inconveniencing someone with a request or for taking a while to reply. I was no longer sorry it took so long to get back to anyone. Neither did I feel either regretful about asking them to do something or grateful to them in advance for doing it.

I painstakingly reread every message to make sure neither polite phrase had sneaked through. And after I’d carefully excised each self-effacing slip, I hit send with a new set to my jaw, a hard glimmer in my eyes.

The effect was immediate: Colleagues began to treat me with more respect. Celebrity publicists—a notably power-aware lot whom I often contacted in my job—were more responsive. Even interns (those pecking-order experts) seemed to regard me with a new sort of awe.

Though, this article is one person's experience rather than a broader study and it's also specific to women.


For simplicity, let's say these are emails at work in the US. A study that includes gender in the consideration would be really useful.

  • 6
    I think a key point is in the answer itself: you don't want to sound like you don't care. It might simply be a lot of people see through these pleasantries for that very reason; nobody includes them because they really care, and so their effect is lost. (I'm an anecdote, not a study, but I certainly don't enjoy reading them because my base assumption is that it's included for ulterior motives and not because the sender really cares) – Erik Aug 25 '17 at 6:20
  • In some studies, Erving Goffman showed analysis of human interaction and social norms. I think it can also help you on this topic: Why ... men shake hands ... but hug women? (never had a chance to finish a crafted answer though :/). Hope this helps, despite a lot of reading needed... – OldPadawan Aug 25 '17 at 16:42
  • The other thing I wonder is how much indicates your age. I have only recently starting trying to make myself type gray over grey. It's still grey in the UK as far as I know, but in the US it absolutely indicates your age to spell it with an "e", and perhaps formal niceties may eventually be the same, if they aren't already. – threetimes Aug 31 '17 at 18:00
12

I want a study that supports either using or not using them.


Technicalities

The technical term for this you're looking for is phatic expression:

a phatic expression is communication which serves a social function such as small talk and social pleasantries

but more specifically you're also looking for phatic expression(s) in an asynchronous form of computer mediated communication (CMC) in the workplace (I'm emphasizing the technical terms here, in-case anyone wants to do further reading on it) but for the sake of length, I'll only be summarising one paper written by Thomas Cho (reference below) in 2010.

When do the subjects of the study use any phatic expression?

There are different dynamics at play, but all-in-all phatic expression is advised within the workplace when you know you're interacting face to face with them outside of emails (couldn't find too much on gender specifics, though). The study also goes into emphasising that e-mail has more of an oral style to it, which further supports the use of any phatic expression(s).

In general, the higher frequencies of the majority of linguistic features in email can be linked to the use of a more informal, ‘oral’ style. For example, contractions are more commonly found in less formal varieties of spoken communication, such as personal conversations, than in more formal varieties of written communication, such as academic papers (Chafe & Danielewicz, 1987).

Within the results of the study, they reiterate how the subjects omitted greetings and leave-taking formulas, but overall the subjects kept the phatic formulas in.

Given the numerous incentives for omission of formulas provided by the email medium, it is surprising that formulas were omitted in only about one-third of the messages.7 Greeting formulas were omitted on 66 occasions but included on 129 occasions. Leave-taking formulas were omitted on 62 occasions but used on 133 occasions. Nor did the inclusion of text from a previous message or forwarded text greatly reduce the number of greeting formulas, with 42.37% of such messages still including a greeting formula.8 In the present study, such formulas clearly serve a phatic purpose.

[ ... ]

The importance of phatic communication is particularly evident in the use of greeting and leave-taking formulas. While omission of these formulas occurred regularly, formulas were still used by all subjects, and formulas were included on more occasions than they were omitted. A variety of extended leave-taking formulas was also used. Clearly, linguistic economy was not the overriding concern in such usage.

So the subjects clearly wanted to fulfil a phatic purpose when communicating with the other subjects in the study, and this is why:

The ability to establish and maintain social contact through email is in keeping with the cooperative nature of the Internet as an environment that supports many communities of computer users. In the context of a workplace—where addresser and addressee are more likely to know each other—the need to maintain good social relations is high, to the extent that social contact among workers is valued. The majority of the email in the present study was directed to internal staff members of the university and the majority of recipients were known to subjects via face-to-face conversation. The frequent use of greeting and leave-taking formulas in this study can be viewed as an effort to maintain cooperative workplace relations.

They want to maintain clear workplace relations with those they see face-to-face and will do so through such "pleasantries", which an informal email would stem into their oral communication elsewhere in the building.

They then conclude the study with:

The explanation proposed in this article is that email users seek to imitate spoken conversational style to express a friendly, casual orientation towards their addressees. They are especially motivated to do so in the workplace environment of the present study, in that their addressees are co-workers with whom they also interact face-to-face.

Bottom Line

It's only natural to continue such phatic communication with those you work with. Everyone (myself included) would always want to maintain good work relations with my colleagues and if I need to continue to do so via email by making a good impression as I would a face to face conversation, so be it. I wouldn't say it's harmful to continue to use such pleasantries, just don't over do it.


7

Bradley Wilson's answer caught my attention, because the work he cites is focused mostly on the prevalence of pleasantries in sent emails...

This is interesting but says nothing about how those pleasantries are perceived.

Fortunately, there's a huge industry with a vested interest in addressing that:

Sex

Yup! Email marketing, also known as the reason why most of the emails sent to you have to be filtered out by your email program in order for you to actually get anything done. For decades now, these dedicated people have made a living by figuring out the most effective ways to get you to open an email, click links inside that email, and most importantly not click the spam button. If anyone knows what people actually want to read, it's email marketers.

Well, back in '05, Sunil Wattal and friends decided to study the results of 10 million emails sent to 600,000 people, and found:

Our results not only indicate the economic benefits of personalization but also highlight consumers’ privacy concerns. The main results are as follows: first, emails personalized only on the basis of consumers’ product preferences get a more favorable response from consumers than those with no personalization. Second, we show that more than 85% consumers react negatively to personalized greetings in an email, suggesting that consumers are likely to perceive a violation in privacy if they see their name in an email advertisement. Third, we show that consumer response is mixed if both personalized greetings and product-based personalization are used in an email. While most consumers react negatively if both personalized greetings and product-based personalization are used in an email, consumers who buy more often from a firm prefer emails where personalized greetings are accompanied by reliable product recommendations. This suggests that familiarity with a website mitigates customers’ privacy concerns.

Now, how does this help resolve the conflict between the two recommendations you found? Well, look at the context:

  • The Brazen.com blog talks about going to a friend's house, following their activities on Facebook, etc. - they describe a scenario where you're talking to someone you know well.

    This aligns pretty well with the "regular customers" noted above, people who've interacted with the marketer often enough to be comfortable with the idea that the entity sending them email might actually know something about them.

  • The Daily Beast article focuses on emails sent to colleagues, publicists, interns... People the author might be acquainted with professionally (if previously acquainted with them at all!)

    These align reasonably well with the primary audience noted above: new or occasional customers who would tend to find such faux familiarity off-putting or even creepy.

With this in mind, you should consider reserving such "pleasantries" for recipients whom you known well enough to actually greet in the hall should you pass them. Maybe...

But you might also want to consider the age of the person you're contacting. Warning - this is pure speculation, but I will update this post if I can find confirmation anywhere. That paper I quoted above? That's 12 years old. A generation has grown up in that time, beset on all sides by ravenous email marketers. A generation that kills.

And I strongly suspect we're seeing some cultural lag here. Practices that were expected when letters and memos were typed on paper and posted or faxed, then, tolerated when composed and sent electronically, are being rendered archaic by the very thing that generated the data I referenced above: insane amounts of email, with varying levels of personalization, generated by cold unblinking machines and marketers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year... For the entire lifetime of many now entering the workforce.

Once in a great while, my spouse send me a note to greet me by name and thank me for being part of the family. The coffee roaster I buy from occasionally does the same on a monthly basis. Choice Hotels contacts me regularly and in the sweetest terms lets me know how much they miss my companionship. Someone who sold me a screen protector on Amazon addresses me as "Dear" and informs me that it is an honor to write to me!

These pleasantries - phatic expressions as Bradley calls them - were never quite sincere in a literal sense, but even the meta meaning of establishing familiarity and trust has been worn thin by the constant friction of millions and millions of marketing emails. But perhaps for someone old enough to remember the days of formal letters and eloquent personal missives they may still hold some value.

1

I'm not an expert but I think it totally depends on who you are writing and who you are.

I used to have a friend once, who would almost only call if she needed something. Same goes for emails: People generally want something when they send you an email. especially if people see you like this, then starting pleasantries can be seen as blank space.

Starting with pleasantries can feel like you are waiting for this person to ask you something but it also leaves you with a better option of answering this email if you can't. Instead of writing back: No I can't. You can write: I'm feeling good but I'm very busy, this is also the reason why I can't come, I already scheduled x.

If you want to write effective emails I suggest you look at the research, company boomerang did.

Why do we write pleasantries? I think is the same as in spoken language, you first try to create a relationship with the person and you create a neutral ground for you to ask the question.

Another great way to ask somebody to do something for you through email is to consider why you asked him and what his possible gain could be out of it. If you bring up just a task or responsibility, you can guess the answer but if there is something to gain from the other person we have something to consider.

Back to pleasantries

I think you can consider:

  • If it was once a good friend and I would really like to catch up, mail them more than just: I'm fine' and ask to plan a date.
  • If it's somebody random you used to know, it might still be good to it a little but don't overdo it, people know you sent them an email to get something from you. Be polite and don't try to manipulate or force anyone. (make it look like a win win situation)
  • Don't ask 'how are you doing?' I'm fine. But be original to show you really care about this person trying to find a creative pleasantry.
  • There is probably no solid research, except for research that can say: from this day and age xx% of people find pleasantries annoying. A smart person might faster abstract it as a pleasantry while a less intellectual might take it as general interest.

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