Openings and Closings in Workplace Emails

How Do People Navigate without Clear Standards and Clearly Prescribed Formulae?


  • Kristin Rygg Dept. of Professional and Intercultural Communication, NHH Norwegian School of Economics



Professional email communication, Opening salutation, Closing valediction, Individual style, Egalitarism


Languages vary when it comes to linguistic manifestations of formal politeness, but what particularly marks professional email communication is the flexibility of the genre compared to traditional, formal business letters. This poses the question of how individual email writers navigate without clear standards and clearly prescribed formulae. This study focuses on the individual email writer and, specifically, opening salutations and closing valedictions in 927
Norwegian workplace emails, followed by metapragmatic interviews with their senders. In an egalitarian society with few explicit linguistic manifestations of formal politeness, individual choices of formulations provide a rich source of data. Linguistic content analysis reveals a significant degree of consistency in each person’s individual use, which indicates that when there are no commonly held norms, people make their own rules. The interviewees are aware of
which openings and closings they prefer, but often not why. Further analysis of the data reveals that hierarchical social distance is not a motivational factor, but the intentions to be either personally close or professionally distant are. Both are regarded as viable options in formal workplace emails by their users. However, the informants’ perception of which linguistic items represent these motivations depends on individual preferences rather than on any established
or institutionalised practises. The latter is not a uniquely Norwegian problem, but concerns email correspondents in general because of the flexibility innate to the email genre.




How to Cite

Rygg, K. (2021). Openings and Closings in Workplace Emails: How Do People Navigate without Clear Standards and Clearly Prescribed Formulae?. HERMES - Journal of Language and Communication in Business, (61), 7–21.