Business letters function as an important communication tool for companies to interact with other businesses, customers, vendors and government agencies. Because business letters represent much about your professionalism and business style, it's important to observe proper etiquette regarding stationery, word choice and format. The salutation becomes particularly worthy of note because it's one of the first things the recipient reads. Understanding the types of salutations for business letters will help you determine which option best suits your needs for a particular letter.
If you know the name of the person receiving your business letter, use the salutation type that begins with Dear [Recipient's Name]. Business letter salutations employ the use of formal titles, including "Mr.," "Ms.," or "Mrs." For example, when writing a business letter to Patrick Fox, the salutation begins, "Dear Mr. Fox." Salutations are followed by a colon rather than a comma or semicolon. The title "Mr." applies to all men; the title "Mrs." applies to married women and "Ms." applies to both unmarried women and women whose marital status is unknown. Increasingly, the title "Ms." has become an appropriate business letter salutation for both married and unmarried women, since some women don't feel that their marital status should be broadcast in professional business situations. The title "Miss" for unmarried women isn't a preferred salutation for the same reason.
If you're not sure of the name of the person who will be receiving your business letter, use the format that includes a more general salutation. In the United States, common salutations for recipients include "Gentlemen," "Ladies," "Ladies and Gentlemen," or "To whom it may concern." These salutations are followed by a colon. Salutations more common in Great Britain but acceptable in the United States include "Dear Sir," "Dear Madam," and
"Dear Sir or Madam."
Some recipients may have names of indeterminate gender, such as "Chris," "Casey," or "Jules." Never guess in this situation; instead, list the full name, as in "Dear Casey Smith." Otherwise, use the "To whom it may concern" salutation.
Recipients will appreciate business letter salutations reflecting their preferred title. If a recipient by the name of Ruth Brown has signed previous correspondence as "Dr. Ruth Brown," don't address your reply to "Ms. Brown." Accordingly, some people may not choose to use honorary titles even when they hold them. If Dr. Joel Abrams presents himself as "Mr. Abrams," stick with his preference.
Business partners corresponding via letters may substitute the recipient's first name for the more formal title and surname. In this type of salutation, the first name would still be preceded by the word "Dear," but the punctuation type could include either a colon or comma. Don't assume informality in business letters unless it's been previously welcomed in conversation or correspondence; refrain from using first names in correspondence that may become part of the business' formal records since this may appear unprofessional to others who will have access to the letter.