Writing a business letter or email seems straightforward, until you encounter one of the many exceptions to the standard format. Even at the beginning, the address or salutation can trip you up when you need to address more than one person. By thinking through the nature of your audience and the message you want to send, you can select the right form of address from a number of options.

Know Your Addressees – and Your Context

Before you write your letter or email, take a moment to think about the actual recipients. The forms of group salutation vary with the number of people you’re writing to, their relationships to each other and to you, and the context or formality of your message. How many people are you addressing, and how well do you know them? Can they be identified easily as a collective group – for example, a work team or board members. Will you need a formal or informal salutation? Once you’ve answered these questions, finding the appropriate salutation becomes much easier.

Just a Few Addressees

When you have a small group of recipients, typically less than five, the ideal salutation is “Dear” followed by each of their names, and ending with colon. Depending on the formality of the letter, you can use either first name or title and last name:

Dear Jane, Paul and Tom:
Dear Ms. Franklin, Dr. Wilkins, Mr. Sloane and Mr. Perkins:

Large, Cohesive Group

If your letter or email is going to more than four or five people, use a salutation that refers to the group as a whole. In the workplace, teams and departments often have defined names that can be used in the salutation. Where this is not the case, or when your letter goes to recipients of various groups, you can address the letter by general position.

Dear Marketing Department:
Dear Quarterly Presentation Team:
Dear Fellow Accountants:
Dear Colleagues:

Neutral Yet Friendly Salutation

Neutral salutations are useful when your letter is going to a large, diverse group of people, as well as when you are sending a memo to a group that you interact with frequently. Because the intent is to be warm and engaging, these salutations often work in both formal and informal contexts. See these examples for ideas:

Greetings, All:
Dear Friends:

Avoiding Pitfalls

Even with careful planning, you might still run into conundrums that can pop up in any business letter. For example, choosing the correct title is difficult when you don’t know the person’s gender. In that case, you can use both first and last name without the title. However, this could make a small group salutation look awkward, because one full name would stand unpleasantly in a list of titles and last names. You can avoid this by using a friendly, yet respectful, generic salutation to address the small group.

Excessive informality is another pitfall. When you know your team well, you might be tempted to use vernacular or slang words, such as Dudes, Y’all, Guys or other monikers that seem lighthearted and fun. However, unless you know the individuals very well, you risk excluding or offending recipients who dislike that manner of address. Also, remember that business communications rarely stay within the group to which they’re addressed. An addressee might forward your letter to her boss, for example. If you stick to wording that is inclusive and respectful, your business letter salutations will always be well-received.