Business English Quick Tips: salutations


Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…

Greetings to salutations!

A salutation is simply the way you address someone at the beginning of a piece of written communication. Let’s look at their main uses. First of all…

Salutations in letters

What you write depends on the relationship you have with the reader. Common sense should prevail here. When you’re writing to someone you know well enough to be on first-name terms, there’s no problem – you start with “Dear Lucy,” followed by a comma.

If you don’t know the person well, it’s safer to use more formal salutations, for example:

Dear Mrs Grant, if you know that she calls herself “Mrs”

Dear Ms Grant, if you don’t know whether she’s married OR want to play it safe.

Where you can run into trouble is when you don’t know the person’s first name, in the heading of the letter.

Ordinarily you would write the heading like this:

Mrs Lucy Grant
Downside Auto Parts Ltd
(full address, etc.)
Dear Mrs Grant, / Dear Lucy,

If you only know her last name, the best way to head the letter is:

For the attention of Mrs Grant:
Downside Auto Parts Ltd
(full address, etc)
Dear Mrs Grant,

And if you don’t know of Mrs Grant’s existence but want to complain about the non-delivery of your van’s new tires, try this:

For the attention of the Customer Services Manager
Downside Auto Parts Ltd
(full address, etc)
Dear Sir or Madam,

The plurals of these, by the way, are “Messrs” (two or more men) with the salutation “Dear Sirs,” and “Mesdames” (more than two women, both heading and salutation), and “Dear Sirs or Mesdames,” etc.

Although you never spell out the words “Mistress” (Mrs), “Mister” (Mr) or “Messieurs” (Messrs), with titled people you do not abbreviate the titles, ranks, etc. Some examples:

Sir Robert Bloggs
Downside Industries PLC
(full address, etc)
Dear Sir Robert,

Air Commodore Robert Bloggs
RAF Downside
(full address, etc)
Dear Air Commodore Bloggs,

The Reverend Robert Bloggs
Downside Vicarage
(full address, etc)
Dear Reverend Bloggs

For details on how to get headings and salutations right for various different VIPs in the UK, this source is very helpful:

For the USA, here is a similar resource:

Salutations in email

With emails you can usually kick off your shoes and relax. Because it’s a relatively new medium it never got weighed down by old-fashioned etiquette and traditions, so it started out with a refreshingly informal approach to communication and to a large extent that has remained.

Although some people still try to creep in with an older-style “Dear Lucy” or even “Dear Mrs Grant” at the start of an email, it looks a bit silly. More common forms of address are:

Hi Mrs Grant / Lucy,
Hello Mrs Grant / Lucy,
Mrs Grant / Lucy,

When in doubt and where possible, be led by the way in which the person addresses you in their email.

Salutations in mass email

This is where I go very cross-eyed with anger at the rudeness of mass emailers who are obviously carried away with their nifty software that supposedly figures out what my name is and automatically whips that into the salutation. This is what I get:

Greetings Ms Maur,
Hello Mr St Maur,
Hi Suzan St,

Or when the software throws its hands up and admits defeat, I’ll get…

Hello SuzanStMaur,

Users of mass email software, get this and get this “good:” there is no such thing as software that will get everyone’s name right through a list of 5,000. Even when you do get the salutation right you don’t fool anyone, so why don’t you just write “Hello Reader,” or even forget the salutation altogether? At least that is honest and less likely to get people’s backs up when they see their name mangled by someone trying to sell them something.

More next week … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!


More quick fixes to make your bizwriting brilliant (instant downloads)

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
The MAMBA Way to make your words sell“…how to think your way to superbly successful sales writing
“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English




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