One of the most important, yet often overlooked, aspects of formal communication is how to address a business letter. To be clear, this is an article regarding the salutation—the person you are addressing—in a business letter, not the act of addressing the envelope. Knowing how to begin a business letter can be confusing if you are not familiar with the accepted conventions of written corporate communication.
“Dear… what should I call them?” Often, there is a moment in the preliminary stages of writing a business letter when people have to stop to ask themselves this question. Here are a few helpful guidelines on how to address a business letter.
Use a professional, polite salutation to precede your letter’s main content.
- Dear Mr. Lastname:
- Dear Mrs. Lastname: (if you know female recipient’s last name and that she is married)
- Dear Ms. Lastname: (if you know female recipient’s last name and that she is unmarried, or if you are unaware of marital status)
- Dear Dr. Lastname: (if known, professional titles such as Dr. are very appropriate, do not spell out the title)
- Dear Sir or Madam: (if you are unaware of the recipient’s gender or name)
- Dear Recruiter: (if name is unknown, the job title of your recipient is acceptable)
One of the most common mistakes made by those who don’t know how to address a business letter is the use of a comma after the salutation. In formal letters, one should always use a colon, rather than a comma.
Avoid using informal language in the body of your letter. This seems like common sense, but it can be hard for some people to adapt to writing in a manner appropriate for corporate communication.
Even with written communication decreasing in the corporate culture, knowing how to address a business letter will help you when the situation arises. It can save you from appearing inappropriately informal or familiar in your communication. Of course as your familiarity and comfort with a business contact grows over time, the formality of your communication will evolve as well.