Business Letters / December 1, 2018 / Loraine Cohen
When you write to a title the salutation is "Dear Sir " "Dear Madam " or if you want to play it safe "Dear Sir/Madam." When you write to an organization it s "Dear Sirs " Dear "Mesdames " or again if you want to play it safe (but labor the point) "Dear Sirs/Mesdames." Your sign off will be "Yours faithfully" (UK) or "Yours truly" (US and Canada.) Less formal letters This is where you have a name. And this is where you can get into hot water if you re not sure of the gender of the person. Someone called J C Jennings could be a Jack or a Joanna. Someone called Leslie Matthews could also be either (traditionally the female version of the name is spelled "Lesley" and the male "Leslie " but I know at least one lady Leslie.) Equally beware of unisex names like Jody Jo Bobbie Alex Rob Robin Carol (yes really ) Billie Chris Darryl Eddie Sam Jackie Nicky Frances (f) vs Francis (m) Freddie Gabrielle (f) vs Gabriel (m) Georgie Gerry/Jerry Charlie Nat Harry Jessie (f) vs Jesse (m) Stevie Mel Pat Ronnie Sacha Sandy etc. And that s before we get started on names from non English-language cultures. People these days usually don t advertise whether they re "Mr" or "Ms" or whatever.
There is an answer though. Use the formality of structure that makes the business letter the bullet-proof form of communication it has come to be. Combine that with the short straight-talking style of writing more common to emails and you have a good compromise. Let s start with the structure - or rather the etiquette which supplies the structure. There are variations between accepted etiquette used in the different English language markets. Here are the main British forms of address. I have also included the US/Canadian equivalents where I know them but I m afraid I m not aware of those used in Australia NZ or SA. Formal letters The addressee will either be a title e.g. "The Chief Executive Officer" or to an organization or company when you don t know to whom your letter should be addressed.
When in doubt don t risk embarrassment; phone the organization concerned and ask. Some people borrow an awful technique from email and use a person s whole name in the salutation e.g. "Dear Suzan St Maur." I don t know about you but this irritates the h*ll out of me and I would not recommend it. So when your letter is addressed to "Mr J C Jennings" your salutation is "Dear Mr Jennings." If the information you have is simply "Joanna C Jennings" you can probably take a chance and write a salutation of "Dear Ms Jennings." I don t know many male Joannas but don t count on it... Writing business letters is a skill that a person should have since it involves creating formal correspondences concerning your company product or service.