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Business Letter and Business Email Salutations

 

Dear Reader: Dear Reader, Hi Reader, Good afternoon, Reader: Hey Reader! Are you confused about shaping salutations in business letters and business email?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions in business writing courses. To begin, let’s clarify which documents use a salutation:

* A business letter communicates information outside the organization and requires a salutation.
* A business memo communicates information inside an organization, and does not include a salutation.
* A business email communicates information both inside and outside an organization, and in most cases should include a salutation on the first message at least.

You should base your choice of salutation directly on your recipient, particularly your relationship with that recipient.

The standard salutation for a business letter is the salutation Dear, followed by the person’s name and sometimes a title, closing with a colon.

Dear Ms. Reader:
Dear Janet:
Dear Attorney Adams:

The standard salutation for a more social business letter, or personal letter is the salutation Dear, followed by the person’s name and sometimes a title, closing with a comma.

Dear Ms. Writer,
Dear Andrew,
Dear Pastor Amanci,
(Social business letters address congratulations, thanks, condolences or other non-business related issues.)

OTHER TIPS:

If you do not know a person well, or are making first contact, it is always best to lean towards formality, if in doubt. Use a title and a last name.

Dear Mr. Sancheza:
Dear Dr. Amanci:

If you know the recipient well, use a first name only.

Dear Karen:

If you do not know the person’s name, try to find it. If it’s impossible to locate, then use a person’s position as salutation.

Dear Principal:
Dear Tax Adjuster:
Dear Parent:

To two or more women:

Dear Mrs. Adams, Ms. Kott and Miss Connor (using the title you know each prefers. If you do not know a recipient’s preferred title, use the neutral title Ms.)

To a woman and a man:

Dear Ms. Fong and Mr. Mendle (List the recipient who is highest in corporate rank first, and alphabetize the order if they are equal in corporate rank.)

To several persons:

Dear Mr. MacDonald, Mrs. Brady and Dr. Mellon:

Hold these same letter standards for a formal email (i.e. one that is functioning like a business letter, such as a first response to a client inquiry, or a sales letter, or a proposal.)

For less formal email, match your salutation and tone to your relationship with the recipient and end the salutation with a comma rather than a colon:

David,
Dear David,
Hi David,
Hello David,
Good morning, David, (If you know for sure David will read this in the morning. See post, Using Time Salutations Carefully for more info.)
Hey David, (Only use the slang term hey for your most informal email with your best pals. It will feel out of place in wider business use.)

You can also incorporate the person’s name in the opening of the message:

You’re right, David. I forgot.

I used The Gregg Reference Manual for verification of these salutation formats, and highly recommend this as a definitive style guide.

Dear Reader:

I hope this helps clarify your salutations!

Best regards,

Mary

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About the Author: Mary Cullen

A business writing expert, Mary helps professionals write documents that clearly convey complex information to colleagues and customers.

Comments

I’m not sure on how to address a female + several males. Would it go ‘Dear Ms. xxx, dear Sirs,’ or ‘Dear Ms. xxx, Gentlemen:’ I may be mixed up about U.S. and British usage…..
Posted @ Wednesday, May 25, 2011 8:11 AM by Siggy Reichstein
Hi Siggy, 
You’ll find detailed information on salutations for a group here: http://blog.instructionalsolutions.com/2009/02/17/business-email-salutations-to-a-group/ 
 
In your case, it sounds like your salutation is addressing less than five people. If so, just list their names in the salutation. 
Mary
Posted @ Wednesday, May 25, 2011 8:12 AM by Mary Cullen
Point of correction; “Dear Reverend” is NEVER correct, unless the addressee’s first name is Reverend. The proper form is “Mr./Miss/Mrs./Ms, unless the individual is a religious (sister, brother, nun, Roman Catholic or Orthodox priest ONLY), in which case the proper title prefaces the addressee’s preferred name.
Posted @ Wednesday, May 25, 2011 8:13 AM by Jacquelyn O’Sullivan
Jacquelyn, 
Thanks for the helpful clarification. When writing a salutation for most religious orders, “reverend” does function as an adjective, not a noun, so it would not be used in a salutation, with the exception of Roman Catholic priests. (I verified this with my Jesuit adviser at my alma mater, Boston College.) 
 
I changed the example in this post from “Dear Reverend” to “Dear Pastor” to broaden the example. It seems this issue warrants its own post! In my Episcopal church, salutations are particularly troublesome. A salutation for a male priest is “Dear Father Paul.” For a female priest, it is “Dear Mother Sarah,” which sounds odd to my ear. I’m going to check with the Princeton Theological Institute on this, and write a post devoted specifically to the issue of religious salutations. Thanks for raising this issue more directly! 
 
Here is an excellent listing of proper salutations for various religious denominations: http://www.tanenbaum.org/etiquette_leaders.html
Posted @ Wednesday, May 25, 2011 8:13 AM by Mary Cullen
Any thoughts on using an opening other than “Dear” in a business letter that is making a demand or relating to a particularly nasty dispute? I’m writing on behalf of a client to an adversary, and neither I nor my client hold him dear to our hearts, to say the least.
Posted @ Wednesday, May 25, 2011 8:14 AM by Mike
Mike, 
As hard as it is to be polite to those who are not dear to our hearts, you should still follow standard business salutation format. 
 
If you drop a salutation, it sets a tone that will raise the hackles of your reader before you can convey your message. Interestingly, if you look at the public legal correspondence to even the infamous Bernie Madoff, it begins, “Dear Mr. Madoff:” even when the legal letter then goes on to summarize horrific charges. 
 
You further your communication by staying polite, especially when you dislike the recipient.
Posted @ Wednesday, May 25, 2011 8:14 AM by Mary Cullen
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