The Grammarphobia Blog

Indented servitude

Q: If you start an email with “Hi Sylvia,” do you indent the salutation?

A: No, you don’t generally indent a greeting in email or, for that matter, in snail mail.

And you don’t necessarily need to indent the first lines of the paragraphs that follow, either online or off.

We write all our email (and our blog posts) with the paragraphs beginning flush left and with a line of white space between paragraphs.

This seems to have become the usual convention of email writing. Generally paragraphs are flush left (that is, not indented), with space between them for greater readability.

But there’s no law against indenting if you want to. This is a style issue. Go with whatever suits your style.

As a general rule, you should indent either all or none of your paragraphs after the greeting. Consistency makes your email easier to read.

So if you indent the first paragraph after the greeting, then indent each successive one.

We also like to use a comma before the name in a greeting (“Hi, Sylvia”), though many people follow your practice and omit it. We explained this usage in a blog entry a while back.

Of course many people don’t use greetings in email. We think, however, that a greeting at the beginning of a message adds a human touch. Again, this is a style issue, and it’s your call.

You might want to look at a column we wrote for the New York Times magazine about email. It appeared in 2002, a couple of lifetimes ago in Internet time, so some of our advice may seem a bit old fogyish now.

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