The Best Approach to Writing a Business Letter Salutation

FT Contributor  | 

A good business letter salutation paves the way for the recipient. It quietly greets them and invites them to read on. If a salutation is awkward or missing altogether, it can send a brusque vibe. Even worse, if a salutation is downright terrible, it can turn someone off and prompt them to avoid reading any further.

If you want your business letters to come across the right way and be read through to the end, make sure that you always follow good etiquette when it comes time to write your business letter salutations.

The Basics of a Business Letter Salutation

There isn’t a single formula for business letter salutations, and several different greetings and introductions can be used. Often the specific salutation chosen will be dependent on the type of letter being written as well as the relationship you may have with the recipient.

While there is a certain level of flexibility regarding the way to open a business letter, there are still several rules you’ll want to follow when it comes to the format and tone of your introduction.

Format

When writing a business letter, you want to make sure to place the salutation in the right place. There should be one blank line below the recipient’s name and address, followed by the salutation. There should also be one blank line between the salutation and the body of the letter.

The salutation should match the font type and style of the rest of the letter.

One common error is following your salutation with a comma. This should only be done in informal scenarios. With professional business letters, a colon, such as “Dear John Doe:” should be used.

Tone

Along with proper formatting, you’re going to want to make sure the tone of the salutation matches the rest of the letter. For example, opening up a resignation letter with “Hi There James:” would completely fail to take the tone of the content into account.

It’s wise to avoid all informal language or unusual punctuation in the title of your letter as well. For instance, while a period after “Dear Mr. Johnson” is appropriate, you should never open up a letter with something like “Hey, Jane!!!” Once again, save this kind of writing for personal communications.

It’s also important to do your best to properly address the recipient by their full title. If you don’t know what that is, do your best to find out. If you’re writing a thank you note after an interview, for example, make sure to address the hiring manager by name. A letter simply addressed to a company or even a department is less likely to receive a response.

It’s also important to avoid using a person’s first name unless you’ve developed a strong professional relationship with them. A good rule of thumb is to always err on the side of caution and formality when writing your salutations.

Examples of Professional Greetings

When writing business letters, it’s best to stick to a tried-and-true greeting. Most of these are a variation of “Dear (name),” although there are a couple of other options as well. Here are some of the most common salutations used in professional business letters:

  • Dear (First Name) (Last Name): This is the most common introduction of all and is a standard, professional way to open up any business letter.
  • Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs. (Last Name): If you’re writing to someone you’ve never met or with whom you do not have a standing professional relationship, consider using their last name prefaced by Mr., Ms., or Mrs. If you don’t know the gender of the recipient, or you can tell they would prefer a non-gendered address, consider using an alternative salutation. In addition, if you do not know if a woman is married or not, simply use Ms.
  • Dear (Head of Department): If you cannot discover the name of the person you’re writing, you can address the letter to the head of the department, such as “Dear Human Resources Manager.” However, this should only be done if the actual name of the person cannot be discovered.
  • To (Name): This is a good option if you prefer not to use the term “Dear.”.
  • (Name): If you want to avoid an initial term like “Dear” or “To” altogether, you can simply write the name of the recipient. Make sure to format the name based on the same rules that apply to the first two “Dear..” examples.
  • To Whom It May Concern: While commonly used, this is actually not a preferable option for a good salutation, as it doesn’t address the recipient directly. However, if you truly cannot discover the name of the person that you’re writing, consider using this as a last-ditch neutral option.
  • Dear Sir or Madam: Also written “Dear Sir/Madam,” this is another neutral option if you cannot find the name of the intended recipient.

Avoid Using These Business Letter Salutations

While there are several options for good ways to open a business letter, there are also many other salutations that should be studiously avoided, including:

  • Good Day: This salutation fails to address the recipient by name and may be contradictory to the tone of a more serious letter.
  • Hi: This greeting is far too casual and lacks any depth or sincerity. Even “Hi (name)” isn’t a good idea and should be reserved for casual letters to friends.
  • Hey There: Once again, this greeting is casual and conversational in tone. It sends the wrong message for a professional business letter.
  • Dear Friend: This greeting is casual, fails to address the recipient by name, and sacrifices the professionalism of the letter, which can lead to a more informal reading.
  • Good Morning: This one also includes “Good Afternoon” and “Good Evening.” While clearly avoiding the recipient’s name, the salutation also assumes that the letter will be read at a specific time of day.

No matter how strong the temptation, avoid slipping into a more casual or relaxed manner with your salutations. It’s important to stick to a proper format and tone in order to avoid sacrificing the gravity and professionalism of the business letter as a whole.


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