Salutation Etiquette for a Formal Address
The salutation is your first chance to set an agreeable, professional tone and make a good impression in a formal letter. Especially when addressing esteemed or titled individuals, it's essential to use a salutation that confers the proper recognition and respect. You run the risk of offending the recipient if your salutation is incorrect or too informal.
Using the Right Title
What title or name you use in your salutation depends on the status or profession of the person you're writing to and your relationship with that person. If you are on friendly, first-name terms with the recipient, you can start your letter with "Dear Sally" followed by a colon for a professional business letter or a comma for a social business letter. If you do not know the recipient well, use the personal or professional title, such as ''Mr.,'' ''Dr.,'' or ''Professor,'' and the last name. Address women without a professional title as "Ms.," unless you know for sure they prefer "Mrs." or "Miss."
Unknown Name or Gender
If you don't know exactly to whom you're writing, use the person's job title, "Dear Hiring Manager" or a standard greeting "Dear Sir or Madam" instead of "To Whom It May Concern." If you're unsure of the person's gender, include both first and last names in your salutation in lieu of a gendered title.
Amy Wilde has worked as a grant developer, copy editor, writing tutor and writer. Based in Portland, Ore., she covers topics related to society, religion and culture. Wilde holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and classical civilization from the University of Toronto.