Even in the age of texting, written correspondence still dominates communications between people. If you want to be respected and taken seriously, you must understand and follow proper etiquette for addressing letters. While steeped in tradition, many rules of etiquette for addressing letters still apply in modern use. Use this quick guide to help you through your next letter.
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Check reference material to make sure you have the accurate name and address for the recipient of your letter. A misspelled name or incorrect address can result in misplaced correspondence and delivery delays, and may very possibly insult the recipient. The best way to confirm an address is by calling the individual or company. If you cannot reach anyone, consult the Web, a telephone book, a business directory or your local chamber of commerce.
Try to address the letter to a specific person. For instance, if you are writing a cover letter for a job application, try not to address the letter to "Dear Sir or Madam." It is impersonal and shows a lack of effort. Research the company to find the director of its human resources department or the head of the department to which you are applying.
Make sure you know the gender of the person you are addressing. Do not write to "Mr. Smith" if the recipient is female. Some names are not gender-specific, so if you do not know the gender of the recipient, find out. Contact the company or somebody who may know the person. If you cannot learn the gender of the recipient, address them by their full name, first and last.
Write letters in a formal manner when you do not know the recipient, especially in business correspondence. If you know the person and usually call him by his first name, you can address him that way in the letter. If not, address him as "Mr."
Include the recipient's title where applicable, even if he is retired. Address a judge, for instance, as "The Honorable Joseph Jones," using his full proper name. For a member of the military, include her rank before her name. If she is retired, include the word "retired" after her name. Former presidents, ambassadors, U.S. senators and representatives all retain their most recent designations for life.
When writing to a married couple, according to Emily Post, address them as Mr. and Mrs. John Smith. If you are unsure of the type of union between two people, list both full names without identifiers.
Date the letter in the upper left corner of the letter below your letterhead, then hit return twice and type the recipient's address along the left margin. Make sure the address on the letter is identical to the address on the envelope. Insert two spaces and type your salutation, "Dear _," using the guidelines for the recipient's name outlined above. For the body of your letter, include an extra space between each paragraph. Conclude your letter with a sign-off appropriate to the letter type, such as "Best regards," "Sincerely" or "Thank you."
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