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Formal letters almost always used to start with "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren," or "Sehr geehrter Herr Maier" if the person is known. However more and more we see formal correspondence that addresses with "Guten Tag," or "Guten Tag Herr Maier". The former may be less fashionable but is there any consent on what occasions we rather not use the one or the other?

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The salutation "Guten Tag" in written communication is a more informal variation of "Sehr geehrte/r....".

Both essentially say the same thing, but "Sehr geehrte/r" has been the accepted way to formally address a person for I don't know how many decades.

In my personal experience, "Guten Tag" has gained traction especially in industries that cultivate a more laid-back attitude - Media, parts of IT, and so on - where "Sehr geehrte/r..." is perceived as overly formal. It is becoming more and more popular among younger people (in their 20s, 30s, 40s) in general, no matter what field they work in. I have seen federal employees in their twenties use "Guten Tag" (although it's not the norm).

If in doubt - say, when applying for a position with a German Bank - you can't go wrong with "Sehr geehrte/r".

For everything else, especially if you are on friendly terms with the recipient, "Guten Tag" (or, if you're really familiar with the person, later, "Hallo") is perfectly acceptable.

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I would never write Guten Tag and have never seen it. (This is not to deny that other people use it, just saying.) –  Phira May 25 '11 at 6:46
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@thei fair enough, but it is in the ranks of generally accepted salutations: See e.g. din-5008-tipps.de/die-anrede-nach-din-5008 –  Pekka 웃 May 25 '11 at 6:48
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I find "Guten Tag..." a very elegant solution for private, but formal Emails (like asking for support online). –  ladybug May 25 '11 at 9:15
    
Online support or writing an email to a company as an individual client. My biggest problem with "Sehr geehrter Herr..." is that it is that you have to know the name, and "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren" feels like you´re holding a public speaking, or writing a B2B letter. I often write "Guten Tag" in my work life, but normally I use "Sehr geehrter", because it is never wrong (even if it can sound a little bit "cold" or official) and because writing "Guten Tag" 5 times a day to the same person feels strange. –  Yves 9 hours ago
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You don't use Guten Tag in the evening or at night. ;)

No, seriously, Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren is the way to go if you are writing a formal letter to someone you barely know. If you meet someone in person, you could say Guten Tag!.

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In my experience you usually use "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren" to begin a correspondence, possibly when you're not entirely sure who is going to read/respond to it. As the correspondence continues, it may be adequate to switch to "Guten Tag", as it builds up some familiarity with the correspondant.

It could easily be considered a little too formal to start every single message in the conversation with "sehr geehrte Damen und Herren" if it is already clear who's going to reply to you.

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Regarding the last paragraph; when you know who is replying, it is actually better to write “Sehr geehrte Frau X”/“Sehr geehrter Herr X” instead. But other than that, I would agree that “Guten Tag” is a bit more casual in a letter (although a simple “Hallo” would be fine too). –  poke May 24 '11 at 20:02
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I have never seen a letter (or an email) that starts with "Guten Tag". In what context have you seen this "more and more"?

If a letter is more informal it will start with:

Liebe Frau Müller! (Dear Mrs. Müller)

or

Liebe Mitreisende! (Dear travel group)

If it is an informal email, you can start with "Hallo" or "Hi".

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I would use the first one if i'm writing to a group of persons and i don't know who will read my letter. Both is formal and may be used in any case.

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I edited the Q to point to differences even if the person is known. –  Takkat May 24 '11 at 20:02
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I think the difference is that 'Guten Tag' et al. are conversational (rather than written) greetings

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If you are a native English speaker contacting a German media or communications professional, is it preferable to use sehr geehrt, Guten Tag or Hallo? (For clarity, the professional in question is not someone I have spoken to, corresponded with or even met before).

I guess the subtext to my question is this: if you are an English speaker writing a request for some information about a product or requesting some data, will the "wrong" salutation have negative results on your request?

In my media experience, any letter or email that was addressed to myself specifically, or the newsroom in general, that was strangely (read: incorrectly) addressed would generally be a red flag that the subsequent letter/email was going to be garbage. Is it wrong then to assume that a letter to a German-speaking professional with the wrong salutation will be ignored or deleted without any response?

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Shouldn't this be a new question rather than an answer? In case you ask, please make sure it is different enough to this question. :) –  Takkat 13 hours ago
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