Being able to write in a professional manner can help you improve your standing at work and may even lead to new professional opportunities. By implementing strong business writing techniques when communicating with coworkers, clients and higher-ups, you’re demonstrating respect for these professional relationships. In this article, we discuss what business letter salutations are, why they are important to use, when they are appropriate, and we include tips and examples.
Business Letter Format
2. Name and address
4. Opening paragraph
5. Closing paragraph
6. Complimentary close and signature
What is a business letter salutation?
A business letter salutation is a formal greeting used in professional documents, including business letters, job applications and formal emails.
Why is a business letter salutation important?
Using business letter salutations to address your recipient is important for three reasons:
It enhances professionalism. Using the correct phrasing, punctuation and personal or professional title in a business letter salutation can demonstrate your professionalism and your strength in business writing.
It personalizes the document. Including the recipient’s full name in the salutation of your business letter lets them know that they aren’t reading a mass-produced letter but rather something intended specifically for them.
It demonstrates your professional tone. By providing a formal salutation to greet your recipient, you are setting a professional tone that will carry through your letter.
When should you use a business letter salutation?
There are many instances where you should include an appropriate business salutation, each with its own unique reasons:
A cover letter is often your first opportunity to impress a potential employer and demonstrate your business writing skills. Using the proper salutation in your cover letter can help an employer determine whether or not they should consider you for the position.
A business email can be addressed to someone within or outside of your company. This form of business writing requires you to use the same formal salutations as you would in a paper format.
Formal business letter
This type of business document is used to address someone outside of your company. This is an instance when it would be appropriate to use a personal title in front of the recipient’s first name.
A business memo is a form of business writing used to address colleagues inside a company. For business memos, you should still use a formal salutation to address the department or group of individuals to whom you are sending the memo.
Tips for writing business letter salutations
There are a variety of rules and aspects to consider when writing a business letter salutation. Follow these tips regarding proper greetings and common practices in business letter salutations:
Start with the word “Dear”
Although in certain situations it is appropriate to use “Greetings” or “Hello” prior to the name of the recipient, using the word “Dear” at the beginning of a business letter is the preferred professional approach. When in doubt, use “Dear.“
Consider your relationship with the intended recipient
How well do you know the recipient? If it is a coworker, you can address them by “Dear” followed by their first name only. However, if you don’t know the recipient well enough or at all, use “Dear” followed by their full name.
Research company personnel
If you are applying to a job and the job description has left out the intended recipient for your cover letter, you can do your own research to find the name of the department head you are applying to and address your letter to that person.
Address recipient by job title
If you are applying for a job and cannot find the name of the hiring manager or department head, you can start your salutation with “Dear” followed by the senior job title most closely associated with your potential position.
Address recipient by personal title
You can address the recipient by starting with “Dear” followed by a personal title, such as “Mr.” or “Ms.” If you have the full name of the recipient of your business letter, you can enhance the formal nature of the letter by starting with “Dear” followed by a personal salutation, such as “Dear Ms. Levatson.“
When in doubt, use “Ms.”
If you want to use a personal title ahead of a female recipient’s full name, but you are unsure of her marital status, it is always best to use the title “Ms.” followed by the recipient’s name instead of “Miss” or “Mrs.“
Complete with comma or colon
You can end your salutation either with a comma or a colon. Colons can be a popular choice in memo writing.
Double-check your spelling
Use online resources, such as company websites and social media profiles, to check the spelling of your recipient’s name. This can help maintain your professionalism and show your attention to detail, especially for recipients whose names have an uncommon spelling.
When in doubt, substitute “Dear (recipient name)” with “To Whom It May Concern”
If you cannot find the name or appropriate job title to use in a business letter salutation, you can use the phrase “To Whom It May Concern” as a last-resort option.
Business letter salutation examples
Here are several examples of appropriate salutations that can be applied to business letters and related documents:
- Dear Marketing Manager,
- Dear Margaret Bowman,
- Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs./Miss Bowman,
- Dear Dr. Bowman,
- Dear Dr. and Mr. Bowman,
- Dear Officer Yu,
- Dear Margaret, (if personally familiar)
- Dear Communications Department:
To Whom It May Concern,
While the examples above use “Dear,” you can also use “Hello,” “Greetings” or some other professional salutation. You should also avoid using “To Whom It May Concern” wherever possible since it can come across as impersonal and outdated depending on the audience.
It is also usually best to use gender-neutral salutations to avoid assuming the audience’s gender, such as “Dear Margaret Bowman” instead of “Dear Ms. Bowman.”
November 1, 2011 By Administrator
When writing a letter, what form do I use to address a woman? When writing to a married woman, follow her preference for first and last names if you know it. She may prefer to be addressed by her original name (Ms. Joan L. Conroy). If you do know that she is using her husband’s last name, continue to use her own first name and middle initial (Mrs. Joan L. Noonan).
The form that uses her husband’s first name and middle initial as well (Mrs. James W. Noonan) is acceptable only for social purposes. It should never be used when addressing a business letter to a married woman, and it should not be used when a married woman becomes a widow unless she indicates that this is her preference.
In selecting Ms., Mrs., or Miss, always respect the woman’s preference. If it is not known, use the title “Ms” or omit the courtesy title altogether. Kelly, the examples Gregg gives are “Dear Ms. Noonan” or “Dear Joan Noonan.” I vote for “Ms.” if you don’t know her preference, and it’s business-related.
In the strictest sense of the word, socially, says long-dead and dearly beloved Emily Post, use Mrs. James W. Noonan.
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Using the honorifics Miss, Ms., or Mrs. used to be a common way to address women in a formal or business setting. But as more awareness grows around nonbinary gender identities and gender-neutral pronouns and titles, these terms are becoming more and more outdated and unnecessary. However, there are ways to use the titles Miss, Ms., or Mrs. without making a potentially embarrassing or disrespectful mistake.
Avoid going into any conversation making assumptions about a person’s gender or their preferred titles or pronouns. The best way to make sure you use the right words when introducing someone is to simply ask them what they prefer.
If you’re introducing someone to a crowd in public, then be sure to speak with them ahead of time about their preference of honorific (if any). In person-to-person business introductions, you can simply ask, “how would you like to be addressed?” if you don’t already know.
You can also just skip the titles altogether and simply use a person’s name when introducing them.
The Traditional Uses of Miss, Ms., and Mrs.
Traditionally, people addressed young girls as “Miss.” They also addressed an unmarried woman as “Miss,” but then “Ms.” became more acceptable.
Feminists first began promoting the use of the term “Ms.” for women as the female counterpart to “Mr.” back in the 1950s, and it gained steam in the 1970s. It can be used by any adult woman regardless of her marital status, but it refers to adult women, not girls. It was almost always better to err on the side of “Ms.” if you were unsure of the woman’s preferred title or marital status.
The term “Mrs.” originated to refer specifically to married women, but some women prefer to keep the “Mrs.” in their names even after divorce and particularly if they’re widowed. It’s not safe to assume that all women using “Mrs.” as a title have a current or living spouse, nor is it safe to look for a wedding ring. Most women wear them, but not all do—particularly if they’d divorced, separated, or widowed. They still might want to be addressed as “Mrs.”
There’s no standard for spelling for “Mrs.” in the English language, although both “missus” and “missis” appear in literature.
A Historical Perspective
The title “mistress” is the feminine form of “mister,” but it’s virtually never used these days. As is the case with “mister,” “mistress” was traditionally considered to be marital-status neutral. It was used to refer to both married and unmarried women.
Eventually, “mistress” was split into two separate contractions to distinguish the marital status of the woman in question. “Miss” denoted an unmarried woman while “Mrs.”—the abbreviation for “missus”—applied to married women. Women then moved back toward a less-identifying term once again, adopting “Ms.” to include all adult women regardless of marital status.
“Mistress” is now generally interpreted to mean a woman who is having an affair with a married man, so it’s best to strike this term altogether from your business vernacular.
Never use the term “mistress” to identify or introduce a woman in the U.S. because it has a completely different meaning today than it did years ago, particularly in a business setting.
In 2017, Merriam-Webster added the gender-neutral honorific Mx. to its dictionary to recognize it as a title “for those who do not identify as being of a particular gender, or for people who simply don’t want to be identified by gender.”
Its pronunciation sounds like “mix” or “mux.” People are increasingly using it in the United Kingdom, but its use isn’t growing as quickly in the U.S.
Other gender-neutral options to using Mrs., Ms., or Miss include M., Ind. (for an individual), and there are many more that aren’t as common.
Let’s face it, formal letter-writing has gone the way of the pager. Once a necessary communication tool, it’s now a relic of an era before email, only to be used in specific situations.
But what should you do if you have occasion to write a letter, or its modern equivalent, the business email? And what if you have to write that letter or email to someone who isn’t a man?
Never fear, fearless writer, you’ve got this.
Do you need to use a title?
If titles confuse you, you’re not alone. A Google search for “how to address a letter” returns “to a woman,” and when you look at the recommendations for “how to address a letter to a woman,” the confusion only compounds.
If you’re really unsure, there’s an easy option:
Generally, use full names
When in doubt, it’s best to use the first and last name of any person you’re addressing a formal letter to. It’s both formal and conveniently gender-neutral!
When to use “Ms.”
Although “Ms.” has a 100+ year history, its use has been varied over the years. Some writers default to “Miss” or “Mrs.” based on their assumptions about a woman’s marital status, or because that’s how they were taught in school. But it may be time to put this system of best-guessed honorifics behind us and stick with “Ms.” for correspondence with women.
How did “Ms.” come to be? According to The New York Times Magazine the title was first proposed by an unnamed writer in a 1901 Massachusetts newspaper.
Although this first usage made a little buzz, it was quickly forgotten, and the title stayed out of the public eye for the next forty-eight years, until it appeared as a note in Mario Pei’s The Story of Language. Throughout the 1950s, “Ms.” was mentioned timidly as an expedient time-saver, without much public acclaim. Then, during the women’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s, “Ms.” took on a new, political life. This era heralded the title. Activists began to use it, Ms. magazine published its first issue, and people began to discuss the honorific as an equalizing force between men and women.
With its rich history, it’s safe to say that “Ms.” is preferred by many women of the twenty-first century. However, there are a few times when you should definitely avoid this title.
When not to use “Ms.”
If another professional title is available
If a woman has a professional title, use that instead. Women who are doctors, lawyers, professors, judges, officers, etc., should be addressed just like their male counterparts. Your recipient worked hard for her MD, JD, Ph.D., judgeship, etc., so don’t overlook the importance of the accolade and the opportunity to make a solid first impression.
Some common professional titles include:
- Dr.—In English, this can indicate either a medical doctor (MD) or someone with a doctorate in a subject (Ph.D.). Note: there is some debate about whether lawyers (JD) can use this title.
- Prof.—Used for professors at universities.
- Esq. (American) or Adv. (British)—A suffix used for lawyers.
- Hon. (American)—Used for judges and justices.
- Officer—Used for police officers and other types of law enforcement.
Please note that there are many more titles used in both the UK and the US to denote clergy, politicians, military members, and noble persons. You can refer to this guide from Project Gutenberg if you need help navigating the wide world of English honorifics.
If specifically requested not to
All women—all people, really—have different preferences, and it’s easy to respect them. If a woman specifically asks you to use another title to address her or uses it to describe herself, respect that preference. “Ms.” may be handy, but each woman is an individual human being with different views on this topic, and since “honorifics” are meant to “honor” a person, you should respect their wishes.
Also, if you mess up someone’s title in a letter or email, don’t worry! The relative obscurity of letter-writing means most people will be more forgiving with formalities than they used to. After all, we live in a world of business emojis and work-appropriate textspeak.
Don’t forget about “Mx.”
If you’re addressing someone who identifies as a gender other than man or woman, or if you don’t know the gender of your recipient, “Mx.” is a great option! This and other gender-neutral language are great ways to hedge your bets when you don’t have all the details.
How should you address a woman when you write a letter or email to her? Will she be offended if you write “Dear Madam” or “Dear Mrs + surname”?
Over the last few years, there have been some changes in standard greetings, and here are some general guidelines to help you choose between the three standard titles: Mrs, Miss, Ms.
Mrs, Miss, Ms?
The old distinction between married (“Mrs + surname”) and unmarried (“Miss + surname”) is generally irrelevant in business letters. As it doesn’t matter if a woman is married or not, use “Ms + surname”. Ms is pronounced (Mizz) and is used for all women.
Ms vs Mrs
If you are replying to a letter in which the woman has written her name as “Mrs + surname”, then it is fine to reply to her using “Mrs + her surname”.
Thank you for your letter…”
However, as explained above, if you receive a letter where the first name and surname are given, reply with “Dear Ms + surname”.
We don’t generally write “Dear Miss + surname” to women – unless they have already written to you and ended their letter with this title. So if you receive a letter from a woman who has signed it “Miss + surname”, you can also use “Miss + surname” in your reply.
“Dear Miss Jones
Thank you for your enquiry about …”
If you are writing to a person in a company whose name you don’t know, you can start with “Dear Sir / Madam”. (This is because you don’t know if you’re writing to a man or a woman.)
“Dear Sir / Madam
I’m enclosing my CV for your attention…”
If you know for sure that the person is a woman (but you don’t know her name) you can write “Dear Madam”.
Avoid these other mistakes
1. Don’t write “Dear Mrs” on it own without any name afterwards. Remember: after titles like Mr, Mrs or Ms, we need a surname.
2. Don’t write “Dear Ms”, “Dear Miss” or “Dear Mrs” followed by the first name.
3. Don’t write “Dear Madame”.
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How to Address Names on an Envelope
Writing business letters can be tricky. You sit down to dash off a quick letter and boom, you’re stumped right in the greeting. Writing to one person has enough issues if you don’t know the person’s name or gender. When you add a few people, the questions multiply. How many people are you writing to? Two, three or a crowd? Do you know them by name? Are they your close pals, or passing acquaintances? Fortunately, there are rules and guidelines for all these situations.
Writing to Two or Three
If you’re writing to two or three, it’s an easy answer: Simply write out their names. If you know them well and are on a first-name basis, you may use their first names, such as “Dear Will, Kiersten and Pat.”
If you don’t know them well, or you’re not sure whether first names would be appropriate, use more formality: “Dear Mr. Sothers, Ms. Thompson and Ms. Crump.” Generally, you won’t be faulted for being too formal, but eyebrows will rise if you’re too informal.
Writing to a Group
When you’re writing to more than three people, spelling out names looks cumbersome. People tend to feel like they’re just one of a long list. Better to use a group term like “Dear Team” or “Dear Colleagues.” It’s funny how spelling out a group’s names can make them feel like one of a crowd, but “Dear Team” makes them feel like they belong to the group; they’re part of the team. “Dear Colleagues,” says you consider them worthy of being a colleague, an equal and a valued participant.
Do not, however, use “Dear Colleagues” when writing to people who are senior to you. Technically, they’re your superiors, not your colleagues. But if they’re on the team, too, then “Dear Team” would work well.
How to Name Names
Write to people by name if at all possible. For example, if several people have written to you about a subject and you want to write back, make the effort to find and use their names. If you’re applying for a job, or you’re in another situation where you want to impress someone, finding out their names shows you would make extra efforts in your job, too, if hired. Do you know someone at the company who could find out the names of the human resources personnel involved?
Another idea is to go the organization’s website and see if the department’s director or manager is listed. If that’s the only name you see, you could address the letter as: “Dear Mr. Burns and Colleagues” or “Dear Mr. Burns and Members of the Selection Committee.” If you don’t find specific names, writing “Dear Members of the Selection Committee” will do just fine. While you could write, “Dear Selection Committee,” adding “members of the” gives it a special touch. “Members” acknowledges that you see them as individuals, not just as one big anonymous committee.
Getting Around Gender
With names like John, Maryann, Wayne and Daisy, it’s easy to tell their gender. Other names can keep you guessing, like Cary, Adrian, Pat, Sam, Chris, Drew and Alex. Sometimes their spelling gives them away. For example, Adrian is usually a male, while Adrienne is a female. But names defy common rules of spelling, so if you don’t know, don’t assume.
If someone you know might know the person in question, you may be able to find out. Also, check the website to see if the person is written about and is referred to as he or she. A general internet search for the name might yield answers, too. If all that doesn’t answer the gender question, it’s acceptable to write “Dear Chris Trainor.”
To Whom or Not
While “To Whom it May Concern” sounds stiff and very formal, it’s still an accepted salutation to use when you don’t have any clue to whom you are writing.
On the other hand, “Dear Sirs” is outdated. It’s a grammar trap that is a leftover from the days when businesses were a man’s domain. “Dear Sirs” is inappropriate today when your letter could very well be received by a woman. “Dear Sirs or Madams” at least acknowledges that a woman could be one recipient, but it still sounds old-fashioned. First of all, no one is addressed as sir or madam anymore, except perhaps by their butler or chauffeur. If you don’t have names and don’t have any idea of their gender, try something different, like “Greetings” or “Hello.” These sound friendly and are gender appropriate.
Manners Matter in Email, Too
In all but the most formal cases, it’s acceptable to send an email letter instead of mailing the letter. Many job postings suggest an email reply. Email is a more relaxed form of communication, but as in a cover letter, the rules of grammar and etiquette still apply. Errors and misspellings will be noticed and you’ll be judged by them.
The same guidelines apply when writing to two or three people or a group. When sending an email, though, it’s important to put the email addresses in the “bcc” field rather than the “To” field. Many people don’t want their email addresses to become public knowledge, especially when it’s so easy to forward an email with everyone’s contact info in plain sight. “bcc,” which stands for “blind carbon copy,” means you can see the address but the other recipients cannot.
How to Format My References for a Resume
Your cover letter may be the first form of communication you have with an employer. Addressing the cover letter properly can help you get a pass to the next stage of the job search process, but knowing how to address the letter correctly is important. It is particularly important when the letter is addressed to a woman. There are many ways to address a woman, depending on whether she’s married or single, and based on the information presented in the job posting.
Whenever you are uncertain about how to address a woman in your cover letter, you can rely on using “Ms.” followed by her last name. This helps avoid the mistake of referring to her incorrectly with “Miss” or “Mrs.” This salutation also applies when you are uncertain if she holds a specific title such as a doctorate, advises Western State Colorado University’s Career Service. If she holds a doctorate, the salutation is “Dr.” followed by her last name, and it takes precedence over “Ms.,” “Miss” or “Mrs.”
Use “Miss” to address a woman in a cover letter if this is how she’s referred in the job posting. For instance, “Dear Miss Smith.” It is also the typical form used to address a woman when you know she is not married. If there is any uncertainty at all, refer back to using “Ms.”
Use “Mrs.” followed by the woman’s last name in a cover letter if this is how she’s referred in the job posting. “Mrs.” is typically the form used for women who are married. When you are uncertain whether she is married or has kept her maiden name, refer back to using “Ms.”
In some instances, you may have contact with an employer before having the chance to send a cover letter. She may tell you to call her by her first name. In this type of situation, address her by her first name in your cover letter as well. Other instances where the first name basis can apply in a cover letter is when there is email correspondence that’s already begun and in each instance, she has signed off on it with her first name when writing to you.
Cover Letter Alternatives for “To Whom It May Concern” →
Address a Cover Letter to a Company That Will Not Give Out Its Name →
Address a Cover Letter When the Name Is Unknown →
Wendy Lau entered the communication field in 2001. She works as a freelance writer and prior to that was a PR executive responsible for health care clients’ written materials. Her writing experience include technical articles, corporate materials, online articles, blogs, byline articles, travel itineraries and business profile listings. She holds a Bachelor of Science in corporate communications from Ithaca College.
My email inbox continues to fill up with questions about salutations. Frequently, the questions focus on married women and the appropriate courtesy title to use when typing their names in letter greetings and addresses.
Here is the official word, which I have adapted from Emily Post’s Etiquette, 17th Edition, written by Emily’s great-granddaughter Peggy Post.
If a woman named Jane Wilson marries Fernando Gomez, she may choose to call herself any of these:
- Ms. Jane Wilson
- Ms. Jane Gomez
- Mrs. Jane Gomez
- Mrs. Fernando Gomez
- Mrs. Jane Wilson-Gomez
- Ms. Jane Wilson-Gomez
- Mrs. Jane Wilson Gomez
- Ms. Jane Wilson Gomez
- Mrs. Jane W. Gomez (with W for Wilson)
- Ms. Jane W. Gomez (with W for Wilson)
Peggy Post says nothing about the man’s name. That absence leads me to believe that even if Fernando uses only Gomez as his last name, Jane can still be called Mrs. or Ms. Jane Wilson-Gomez. Apparently I was wrong in thinking it would be impossible to be Mrs. Wilson-Gomez if there were no Mr. Wilson-Gomez. I guess I could legitimately call myself Mrs. Lynn Gaertner-Johnston even though my husband’s name is Michael Johnston.
If you know the title your Jane prefers, use it. If you don’t know, ask her. When the woman’s preference is unknown, the standard courtesy title in business writing is “Ms.”
Note: I am receiving more questions, both in email and comments here, than I can answer. You are welcome to ask a question, but I am likely to answer it only if I can do so quickly or I think your topic is of wide enough interest to take the time to elaborate. Thanks for understanding.
(Ms. Lynn Gaertner-Johnston)