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Suppose I read a research paper and write an email to the authors, requesting some resource or asking a doubt. I know the email address and author's name from research paper.

What is the proper salutation? Is it proper to use "Dear sir" or not? What are the other alternatives to salute?

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  • 5
    @hanugm One piece of advice, if writing to someone outside India, I'd avoid the word "doubt". In American English, "I have a doubt about your paper" might be understood to mean "I think your paper is wrong". merriam-webster.com/dictionary/doubt
    – academic
    Jun 24 at 14:57
  • Per this meta discussion, I have changed the duplicate target to a better match.
    – cag51
    Jun 29 at 13:58
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Dear sir reads as an Indian english address to me. I don't know whether it would be the preferred address in an Indian academia context, but it sounds a little odd in an international context.

If you want to be formal and are writing to US or UK people, then the form of address is "highest title - lastname". This could take the form of "Dear Prof Smith and Dr Doe". In the US, everyone from assistant professor upwards is addressed as "Prof", whereas lecturers, senior lecturers and readers at UK universities are addressed at "Dr".

If you are addressing people in Germany or Austria, the formal way is to list all titles + last name. So here the typical form is "Dear Prof Dr Schmitt". If you were to write in German, you'd add in a "Herr" or "Frau" as well, so "Sehr geehrte Frau Prof Dr Schmitt".

The many countries not mentioned here will also have their own customs. However, given that academia is a very international endeavour, and given the US cultural dominance in international stuff, no reasonable person will be offended by a "Dear Prof X"/"Dear Dr X" address.

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    Very good answer, great context. I'd just like to add that all your proposed forms of address (in English) have an added benefit of not having to guess at the recipient's gender. Though most often there should be no need to guess as more and more Universities request staff maintains profiles with pictures, so it's usually easy to find that info.
    – penelope
    Jun 23 at 14:13
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    I would, in German always Adress unkown people with "Sehr geehrte/r Prof. X" and then see what they reply. In subsequent emails I always adress them however they adressed me. "Liebe/r" seems to me informal and I would only use this for someone I have already spoken to. I ave encountered too many German academics which were really insisting on such formality at least in the first email.
    – JennyH
    Jun 24 at 9:49
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    @JennyH Good point, I've corrected the German address. These days I'd probably just write in English anyway, as I prefer the gender-neutral options.
    – Arno
    Jun 24 at 10:50
  • Regarding Austria: Yes, it is customary to list all titles on door plates or on the envelope when writing a formal letter, but the address is usually just "Sehr geehrte(r) {highest title} {last name}". I can't remember ever having been addressed in a mail as "Sehr geehrter Herr Dipl.Ing. Dr.techn. X Y, Bakk.techn.".
    – Heinzi
    Jun 24 at 11:44
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Look up who the corresponding author is, if it's a co-authored paper. This is usually indicated in a footnote. If it's a single-authored paper, use the name and title of the single author. Let's say the name and title are Dr. Jane Doe. Then the proper salutation is simply:

Dear Dr. Doe,

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Generally, if you're unsure, you can never go wrong with Dear Prof. Dr. Surname. If that person is not a Prof., no problem, they'll correct you if needed.

I would only use Dear Sir, if I was unsure to whom (person-wise) my e-mail is addressed, for example, if I'm contacting an organization.

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Some recipients might be offended, but there is no rule or set of rules for salutations in e-mails. In theory, "Hi…" is as good as anything.

To be most polite, you would follow the same etiquette laid down for "real" letters on paper, which is best expressed in full editions of Chambers Dictionary and Debrett's Correct Form, backed up by Burke's Peerage.

Be careful using "Dear sir" which is insulting without a capital "S" or if the recipient isn't a man and lazy if the excuse for not using a particular name was that you were writing to a company.

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Dear Prof. X

Even if I suspect the person is a grad student I use the above. (And others did to me when I was.) Hard for anyone to be offended, and you don’t need to be overthink it. Some may find it overly deferential but few will find it insufficiently so. “Dear Sir” is worse as it presumes a gender. “Dear Dr” is worse as in some (European) countries you risk demoting someone. “Hi Firstname” or “Hi” or “Good morning” risk being seen as insufficiently polite by people who get upset about this kind of thing.

Sometimes I write to people I know in their role as editors, etc. Then I will sometimes use “Dear Prof. Lastname, Dear Firstname”. Someone did the same to me today. I wasn’t offended by the additional formality.

As someone whose name is frequently mis-spelled I urge you to double check it before hitting send.

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Nowadays I almost never use salutations in an email and just start straight in with my message. I see email as different from formal paper written correspondence and I believe that many recipients see it different also.

Just as in Stack Exchange, I treat salutations, greetings and signature blocks as pure fluff that get in the way of the communication. However, others may have a different view.

I am, however, quite careful to ensure the leading sentence is polite, and explains the purpose of my query. Something like would be the very first line of my message:

I am interested in your paper "...." and am wondering if you would be able to answer a brief question ....

I always try and make the subject line clear as well, knowing some sort email by seeing sender and subject before reading the contents.

So my answer is remove the salutation, and it avoids the whole question of getting it wrong!

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    Well, you may treat them as pure fluff, but many other people would consider an email from a stranger starting directly with "I need your data set" to be rather impolite. And given that OP explicitly wants to be polite ...
    – xLeitix
    Jun 23 at 13:55
  • 1
    I often use a no-heading and no-or-minimal-signature email with people within my organisation that I work with (usually when I know they're expecting the email) but it sounds a bit too bold for cold emailing somebody.
    – penelope
    Jun 24 at 14:25
  • Related: nohello.com.
    – Trang Oul
    Jun 24 at 15:23
  • 1
    @TrangOul Not sure how that is relevant here, since adding a salutation in an email followed by the actual content below it is very different from just sending a hello and waiting for a reply.
    – GoodDeeds
    Jun 24 at 21:30

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