Proper Salutation on Business Letters

by Kevin Ann Reinhart; Updated September 26, 2017
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The salutation used on a business letter is an important part of the letter writing process. Proper salutation format reflects the degree of knowledge possessed by the writer and respects the status of the individual to whom the letter is addressed. Salutation form changes with the business letter's purpose and the position held by the addressee. If the letter is being sent to an official, a more formal style of salutation is warranted. Note that a business letter salutation is always followed by a colon and never a comma as in the friendly letter format.

When a Name Is Known

If the name of the individual to whom you are writing is known, always use it. It is wise to discover the name of the individual who heads the department to which the letter is being directed. Often a phone call or e-mail to the company or a quick search of a company's website will reveal the name you need.

A personal friend or close business associate may be addressed on a first name basis, such as Dear Amy:

If marital status is known, use it, as in Dear Mrs. Smith: or Dear Miss Jones:

When marital status is not specified, use Ms., as in Dear Ms. White:

For gentlemen, use Dear Mr. Baker: or Dear Sir Elton John:

When Only a Company Position Is Known

If the position of an individual is known but the name cannot be ascertained, follow the inside address with a generic salutation as follows:

Head of Physical Resources GHI Company 122 King Street Anywhere, Illinois

Dear Sir or Madam:

Addressing an Organization

If the business letter is being directed to an entire organization rather than an individual, use the following:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

If the letter is to be sent to several individuals in a company, use an attention line:

Attention: Miss J. Smith, CEO, and Mr. W. Right, CFO

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Armed Services Personnel

If addressing a member of the American armed services, use the following:

(Full rank) (name), military branch Dear (full rank) (name):

Lt. Col. Jack Jones, USA (Army) USN (Navy) USCG (Coast Guard) USAF (Air Force) USMC (Marine Corps) Dear Lt. Col. Jones:

Clergy

Business letters to clergy require the correct form of address before the salutation. The following specifies clerical position, then form of address followed by correct salutation.

Abbot:

The Right Reverend Thomas Smith Abbot of St. James Abbey Dear Father Abbot:

Archbishop or Bishop:

The Most Reverend Jonathan Moore Archbishop or Bishop of Sussex Dear Archbishop or Bishop Moore:

Educators and Government Officials

Educators and government officials also require proper address:

Professor, College or University (with a Doctorate):

(name) (abbreviation for degree) (name of college or university) Dear Dr. (name)

President of the United States:

The President The White House Dear Mr. President:

Business Letters for Diplomats

Diplomats are addressed as follows:

Ambassador, U.S.:

The Honorable (name) American Ambassador to (name of country) Dear Mr./Madame Ambassador

For additional examples including the professions of law, medicine, dentist and veterinarian, see References in this article.

About the Author

Kevin Ann Reinhart, a retired teacher-librarian, has written professionally since 1976. Reinhart first published in "Writers' Undercover" Cambridge Writers Collective II. She has a bachelor's degree in English and religious studies from the University of Waterloo and a librarian specialist certificate from Queen's University and the University of Toronto.

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