Writing Style – Addressing Letters

A BizWritingTip reader has asked us to review the best practices for sending letters to people you don’t know.

In years past, it was acceptable to begin a letter to someone you didn’t know with Dear Sir/Madam or Dear Ladies and Gentlemen. (Note: There is no “e”on madam.)

However, the North American business culture is less formal today. In addition, many participants in my workshops have told me that they dislike being called “madam” or addressed as “ladies.” Therefore, salutations have changed.

If you are sending a letter to a position or a category rather than a known person, use a title or group name.


Dear Human Resources Manager:
Dear Customers:

If, however, you don’t know the title, then omit the salutation line. Use a subject line only.


Subject: Employment Reference for Susan McCarthy
Re: Request for Information on Licensing Requirements
Subject: Update on Requirements for Housing Applications

Whether you center your subject lines or start them on the left side (or underline or bold them) is up to you.

Remember, it is always better to use a name. This personalizes your business document and creates better reader buy-in. This information only relates to when you cannot find out the name or you are addressing a large number of people.