How to Start an Email: The Definitive Rankings for Creative Professionals

Not sure how to start email? This is your guide to the weird world of professional email salutations, from "touching base" to the passive-aggressive follow up.


Build your professional portfolio website in minutes. Start your free 14-day trial today, no credit card required.

For every standardized email greeting we send, a part of our teenage self dies. And it’s understandable: at 16, we never thought we’d grow into the people who’d use terms like “circling back” or “touching base,” especially if accompanied by just enough exclamation marks to make it seem like we’re easy, breezy, and beautiful.

But here we are. And as grown-ass adults in our grown-ass industries, we’ve begun signing messages off with “cheers!” or using “best” as a means of asserting passive-aggressive strength. So here is the definitive ranking of textbook email starters—from most soul-destroying to the type reserved only for a boss that is also your roommate and maybe best friend.

“Hey! Just circling back . . .”

Imagine growing up knowing that this would be you. You, sitting on the edge of your ergonomic chair, peering into the digital abyss while inquiring for the fourteenth time about the paycheque you should’ve received in February. “Hey!” you begin. “Just circling back to make sure you got the invoice I sent in 2015! Let me know if there are any issues. Thanks a ton!” You take a sip of your lukewarm coffee, telling yourself you will eventually see that $103.

“Hi! Just wanted to touch base . . .”

You didn’t. You didn’t just want to touch base at all. You wanted to know why whoever it is you’ve been emailing isn’t emailing you back. What have you said? What did you do? Are you fired? Probably. Because if there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that everybody gets and reads most of their emails and proceeds to consciously delete them, respond to them, or mark as unread until they are so far down the page that they gain sentience and delete themselves.

“Reaching out to say . . .”

“. . . That I hate myself and want so badly to seem casual that I’m using a phrase I would only say in real life if I were being blackmailed to. Please write me back. Please, please, please write me back.”

“Following up to ask . . .”

What you did to deserve this. Because you know they got the initial ask. And you know that they wanted to avoid politely declining whatever it is you want to know. And now here you are, confronting them like a paparazzo lurking outside of a restaurant.

“Wanted to drop a line . . .”

It’s cute, it’s casual, it’s the Jordache jeans of standardized email greetings. It’s you, skateboarding up to who you hope to work with soon, popping an ollie, flicking the cigarette your big sister’s best friend gave you while sipping the fountain pop you just scored from McDonald’s. You don’t care, man, you’re just dropping a line. You shrug as you send it, flipping your hair while you side-smirk, knowing it doesn’t matter. It’s not you, it’s them. Maybe you’re born with it, maybe you’re dropping a line.

“Hi there—just wondering what your thoughts were on . . .”

This is the direct way of saying, “Email me back, you fucking balloon animal. I need you to email me back. This isn’t a request. I’m not kidding around. Do you see any exclamation marks? Of course not. If this conversation were happening in person, I would fight you. Do you want to fight? I do.”



“Hey there!”

You type, smiling to yourself as you know that whoever opens this message is lucky to see your name in their inbox. “Hey there!” you laugh, pretending to wave like you just spotted this editor across the park and you both know just how cool you look sipping wine out of a box at the tender age of however-old-you-happen-to-be. “Hey there!” you say to yourself, shaking your head in disbelief: you are just this chill, and everybody can feel it.


(extreme Don Draper voice) CALM DOWN.


You know this person. You have to know this person. You know them in real life, right? Or you’ve at least worked together before? They can’t be a stranger. There’s no way. You don’t email strangers this way. You can’t email strangers this way. It’s illegal to email strangers this way. Why are you stretching your vowels out like this? Why are you extremely relaxed? Tell me how to be extremely relaxed. Only email me this way if we’ve shared memes.


You are me, emailing Jessica Bloom, editor of Format Magazine. [Editor’s note: Accepting “YO”, and any other form of salutation, at Peep submission details for Format Magazine here]

Read more articles about freelancing by Anne T. Donahue:
The Biggest Misconceptions about Freelance Work
New Study Says Creativity Makes Men More Attractive
I’m a Freelancer and I Hate Summer

A4 1 4

A Guide to Improving Your Photography Skills

Elevate your photography with our free resource guide. Gain exclusive access to insider tips, tricks, and tools for perfecting your craft, building your online portfolio, and growing your business.

Subscribe to the newsletter Field Label