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prasad's avatar

Help regarding salutation in letter writing! (see details)

Asked by prasad (3854points) March 26th, 2012

Recently, I am sending and replying emails (and sometimes mails) to people in US. Letters I am sending are official and formal. I need your advice and opinions about salutation or greetings that go at the beginning of the letters. Should I use their names or just sir or madam will do?

Generally, I start with Dear Sir or Dear Madam or Dear Sir/Madam when I am contacting them for the first time. I do this also when I haven’t personally met them. After meeting them personally and feeling that they are comfortable with me, I use their names (example: Dear Justin).

Interestingly, when I get (email) replies, they don’t use any salutation or anything. They just start off with the mail body directly. Can I also reply without any salutation? Or is it always better for me to use it?

Kindly let me know what is the right way to do it. What would you have preferred? You can post answer even if you are not from US. Any other advice that relates to writing letters or emails is also appreciated.

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13 Answers

janbb's avatar

I usually use their name unless it is a close friend with whom I e-mail regularly. If it is a formal letter or e-mail, I would use Dear and their name in the form of Mr——- or Ms.———-. I would only use Sir or Madam if I couldn’t find a name to address it to.

Once you feel you are on a first name basis, I would drop the “Dear” and just use their first name.

marinelife's avatar

@janbb is correct. If you know their name, you should use it. Dear Mr. Brown or Dear Ms. Person.

If you do not know their name, you should use Dear Sir or Madam.

It is OK not to use a salutation in an email.

JustPlainBarb's avatar

Emails are generally more informally written than letters. But, I still think that it’s really just common courtesy to start any communication with a personal greeting, if possible.

This is part of how written communication skills are becoming more impersonal. Texting and emailing are just words, the personal touches are just not in vogue anymore.

It it’s a business email, I would suggest you start with Dear Mr. Smith or Ms/Miss/Mrs. Jones. If you have met them in person previously, you could probably just use Dear John or Mary .. depending on the situation and your relationship with them.

If the email is a part of a string of related replies, you might be able to eliminate the greetings each time though.

But I would suggest to promote a respectful and personable interaction…. you use a greeting including the recipient’s name at the beginning of each email.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@marinelife I would consider it rude not to use a salutation in a business-related email, especially if it were from someone I didn’t know.

prasad's avatar

@janbb @marinelife @JustPlainBarb Thank you.
@dappled_leaves Thanks too.
I have another doubt. If the person I am going to contact is elder than me, then will the rules change? Now, here in India, we do not call elderly by their first names out of respect. I don’t know how to address elder people there. Any ideas?
Example: When I write email to my professor, I use Dear Sir, and don’t use his first name. By the way, do you say Dear Professor?

And, what do you do about Ms/Mrs if you are unsure? use just name?

anartist's avatar

If you are unsure, use Ms. [it includes Miss and Mrs.]

dappled_leaves's avatar

@prasad Rules do not change based on age. Rather, they might change depending on how well you know the individual – that is, formality will likely be dropped after a few emails are exchanged. Otherwise, be consistent.

If you are writing to a PhD, use Dear Dr. Person. If you are uncertain, but have reason to suspect they have a PhD (professors don’t always, but they usually do – you can check their faculty website to be sure), it appears to be standard to address them as Dr., and let them correct you. I would say that Dear Sir should be reserved for people whose names you don’t know. If you do know them, it’s far more common to say Dear Mr. Dude or Dear Dr. Dude.

Regarding Ms./Mrs., I always use Ms., because that is how I prefer to be addressed. Mrs. is only appropriate if she is married, which you are unlikely to know. Of course, if the person has a PhD, you would again use Dr.

You run a slight risk of insulting a correspondent if you don’t use Dr. and should, and if you use Mrs. and shouldn’t. For that reason, use Dr. if you think it might apply, and use Ms. if you think Mrs. might not apply. Above all, do not address a woman as Ms. or Mrs. if you suspect they should be addressed as Dr.

SuperMouse's avatar

I agree with the advice above about including the name if you know it. I also agree with using Mr./Ms. rather then first names. As for the closing salutation, I always rely on “cordially” for less formal but business-type letters.

ro_in_motion's avatar

I also respond in the way they ‘salute’ me. In the age of email, a great deal of formalism has disappeared and we’re the better for it.

dappled_leaves's avatar

^ I disagree.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I think it has been a hard transition for old-school office people to transition to the e-mail age. Putting a salutation at the beginning and a closing salutation (from what I understand) isn’t used in e-mail. I don’t use it. None of the e-mails I receive have it. When I get one like that, it strikes me as strange. Most people have a signature on the bottom with their name and information. That’s about it.

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prasad's avatar

@All Thank you.

I had really forgotten about Ms.

Also, I nearly forgot writing names after Dear. I will tell you my personal experience about this and why I asked you about writing the professor. Once, I wrote an email to my professor starting Dear Dr. his name (first and last). And when he read that, (surprised) he just called me asking what I have written! So, I guessed if I can write Dear Professor.

@Nixkamich I did not know about the colon (your first point), thanks.

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