How to Write a Business Letter: Let's Talk About Salutations

The salutation: that's the Dear... line you use at the start when you write a business letter.

There are several variations you can choose, depending on the position of the person you're writing to, whether or not you know the person's name, how well you know the person, etc. Here are a few guidelines:

• The simplest and most usual form is Dear Mr. Wilson, Dear Ms Wells, Dear Mrs. Spencer, Dear Miss Rodriguez, Dear Dr. O'Day. When you write a business letter to a woman, use the Ms form unless she has already referred to herself as Miss or Mrs., in which case follow her lead.

Dear Don, Dear Martha. When you know the person well, it's quite acceptable today to use his or her first name in the salutation.

• When writing to a business entity such as a company, rather than an individual, the correct (and politically correct!) form is Dear Sirs/Mesdames.

Finally, a word of caution about Attention:... lines. Usually you put this in when you are writing an official letter to an organization, and the person's name is simply for practical purposes. You should not put the individual's name in the salutation when you use an Attention... line, like this:

ABC Company
123 Main Street
Any Town, Any State 00234
U.S.A.

Attention: John Jacobs

Dear Mr. Jacobs:

This is an incorrect hybrid of two styles. Here are two correct alternatives:

ABC Company
123 Main Street
Any Town, Any State 00234
U.S.A.

Attention: John Jacobs

Dear Sirs/Mesdames:

OR

Mr. John Jacobs
BC Company
123 Main Street
Any Town, Any State 00234
U.S.A.

Dear Mr. Jacobs:

Using the appropriate salutation when you write a business letter will get your message off on the right foot.

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