The salutation is your handshake with the reader. You want it to be firm, confident, and friendly, not wimpy and moist. The salutation sets the tone for your letter or email. This article will help you learn to write salutations that will give the reader the feeling he or she wants to hear what you have to say.

What to Write in a Salutation

Begin letters and emails with a salutation. Don’t use just the person’s name. That makes the letter sound like a summons.

In letters, usually use “Dear.” If you know the person well, you might use “Hello” or other such informal word.

Most letters use “Dear” in the salutation. It’s an old custom carried over from the fifteenth century when people started letters affectionately. Today, we most often write letters to people we have no affection for, but the appropriate salutation opening is “Dear.” You might choose to use “Hello” or another such informal word if you know the person well.

In emails, you might use “Hello,” “Good morning,” “Hi,” or other informal greeting. For formal emails you might use “Dear.”

Most emails are more casual. If you know the reader well, you might write “Hello” or “Good morning,” but you must have enough of a relationship to be sure the reader doesn’t see your salutation as being flippant. If you are writing to someone you don’t know, you might use the more formal “Dear” as you do in a letter. Some suggest the writer capitalize all words in the salutation. You may choose to capitalize the words after the first word or not.

Send to an individual when possible.

Write the name of a person when you know the name or can learn it. If the correspondence is very important, do some searching to find out who will be receiving the correspondence.

Address the reader as he or she signed previous letters.

If you are responding to the person’s correspondence, use the name in the form the reader signed the correspondence. If the reader used a courtesy title such as “Mr.,” you must use the courtesy title until the later correspondence when the reader signs his or her correspondence with a first name.

Use general words such as “Hello all” only when the number of recipients is large.

If you are sending to three or four people, write a list of their names. That gives your correspondence more of a personal and collegial tone. Use words such as “Hello all” and “Good morning everyone” only if the number of recipients is larger.

Use the company name or a position if you don’t have a person’s name.

If you are sending an email or letter to a company and don’t know the person’s name, write the company name or the position of the person who will receive the correspondence. “Dear Pastel Draperies” or “Dear Customer Representative.” Capitalize all the words in the salutation.

Use a first name if you know the person well.

If you know the person well and you have commonly used first names with each other, follow the opening word you choose with the person’s first name.

Use a courtesy title if you don’t know the person well.

If you don’t know the person well, use a courtesy title: Dr., Mr., Ms., Mrs., and Prof. or Professor. You might have a person’s position, such as “President Jones.” In Europe, the courtesy title is more involved. You must find out how a person insists on being addressed. You might have “Lord,” “Lady,” or other such title. Use the last name only, not first and last names, unless you don’t know the person’s gender. If you don’t know the gender, you may choose to put the first and last names: “Dear Taylor Burton:”

Don’t use “To whom it may concern,” “Sir,” or “Madam.”

These words are archaic and sound like the opening to a form letter.

End with a comma if you used a first name.

End with a comma if you know the person well and have used the person’s first name.

End with a colon if you used a courtesy title.

End the salutation for someone you don’t know well with a colon.


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Business Writing InstructorDr. Robert Hogan teaches the coaching, tutoring, and individualized business writing courses. Dr. Hogan has been training writers for 40 years in universities, colleges of business, consulting companies, and professional writing companies. He has been a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County College, and Illinois State University College of Business. He was manager of communications in a telephone billing company and owner of a company writing documents on contract for government agencies and corporations.

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