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How to address an email to someone you don't know

Updated February 21, 2017

Sometimes in the business world, you might have to compose an e-mail to a person or persons you have never met before. Often when inquiring about a job, you must correspond with a hiring supervisor who you may or may not meet in the future. In these instances, you should treat an e-mail as you would a formal written letter. You may not have the luxury of knowing a person's name or even gender when addressing your e-mail. There are rules for each of these situations to help you compose a professional e-mail.

Compose your subject line professionally. According to the Purdue University Online Writing Lab, the subject line should clarify the content of your e-mail message so the person to whom you are sending the email will know immediately why you are e-mailing. This might help you get a quicker reply to your message.

Try to learn the email recipient's gender. If you don't know the recipient's name, but you know the person's gender, you can address your e-mail to "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam." Sometimes you can acquire this information over the phone from a receptionist or someone else who works at the company.

Try to learn the email recipient's last name. If you know the last name and gender of the person you are e-mailing, it is easier to correctly address your e-mail in the salutation, or the greeting portion, of your e-mailed letter. Address your e-mail to Mr. Smith or Ms. Wade, for example. According to UsingEnglish, the title of Ms. is appropriate for married and unmarried women.

Sometimes discovering a person's first name will allow you to know the person's gender. Be absolutely certain, however. Unisex names have been popular for years. It's better to use caution than to include incorrect information.

Address your e-mail with a generic greeting, such as "To Whom It May Concern," when you have absolutely no information regarding gender, name or title, according to the Purdue University Online Writing Lab. This should be your last resort, and you should make the extra effort to find out some information about the person you are e-mailing. Check the company website or perhaps the hiring information you received for the mention of the position. Some business websites will feature photographs and brief biographies of their key employees.

Tip

Always identify yourself clearly and use well-written paragraphs free of slang or texting-type abbreviations.

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About the Author

Louise Harding holds a B.A. in English language arts and is a licensed teacher. Harding is a professional fiction writer. She is mother to four children, two adopted internationally, and has had small businesses involving sewing and crafting for children and the home. Harding's frugal domestic skills help readers save money around the home.