Letter Salutations and Greetings

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When addressing correspondence, it is important to use an appropriate salutation for the type of letter you are sending. This is especially true for formal correspondence, such as cover letters or thank you notes.

A determination of what is appropriate depends on how well you know the recipient, the reason for your letter, and whether you are writing a posted letter or an email. Often, salutations in emails will be less formal than in printed letters.

When emailing, you will probably want to change your salutation within a continued chain of email correspondence — while "Dear" is appropriate for an initial email, it could feel stodgy and repetitive when engaging in a rapid-fire email conversation to set up a meeting time.

Get details on the various salutation options, as well as when to use them, below.

Types of Letter Salutations

Since the salutation is the first thing the recipient will see, it's important that you convey an appropriate level of familiarity and respect.

Dear: This salutation is appropriate in many circumstances, whether you know the person well, or if they are a business acquaintance, a potential employer, or a supervisor. If you know the person well, use their first name only. For a potential employer or supervisor, always use Mr., or Ms. (Mrs. or Miss when you know if the woman is married or single) unless you have been specifically asked to use their first name.

For a business acquaintance or associate, your use of “first name only” will depend on how well you know the person.

If you are on a first name basis, use that. If you aren't sure, use Mr./Ms. Lastname, or Mr./Ms. Firstname Lastname. If your contact name is gender neutral (ie. Taylor Brown) and you are unsure whether you are addressing a woman or a man, Dear Taylor Brown is also appropriate.

Examples of Letter Greetings

When you're using "Dear" as your salutation, put a comma or colon after the person's name:

  • Dear Ms. Brown:
  • Dear Ms. Brown,
  • Dear Sarah:
  • Dear Sarah,

The comma is a more informal choice, and should be reserved for email. In email correspondence, "Dear" may read as being slightly old-fashioned, especially in ongoing correspondence. While it works well for a first point of contact email, it may be best to switch to other options (such as “Hello again,”) in subsequent emails.

To Whom It May Concern: This is used in business correspondence where you don't have a specific person to whom you are writing. You might use this when making an inquiry or when applying for a job where you don’t know the name of the person leading the candidate search. Nonetheless, you should make every effort to find the name of someone in the specific department that you are interested in to contact. (Try using a company website or LinkedIn to find a specific contact.)

Dear Sir or Madam: Use the appropriate gender title if you know, or both if you're not sure. This should only be used when you don't have a name to use, as you should always address your letters as specifically as possible.

This can also be construed as outdated.

It is always wisest, though, to err on the side of conservatism when addressing correspondence within business relationships.

Greetings (or, Good Morning, Good Afternoon): Consider these options as a slightly more formal version of "Hello" and "Hi."

Hello: Is appropriate only in email correspondence, and should be used primarily with people you know well, or in very casual circumstances.

Hi: Is appropriate in casual email correspondence with people you know well.

Salutations in Group Emails

When you're writing correspondence to several people, many of the options above are still reasonable. You can write "Dear Mary, Bob, and Sue" or write "Hi Rick and Jen." But you may also want to opt for a group greeting, such as "Hi All" or "Dear Team."

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