Beginning and Ending a Business Letter

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to whom it may concern

At some point in life, you are going to find yourself needing to write a business letter. Business letter writing is a valuable skill used for all sorts of things, like a covering letter when applying for work, formal correspondence, either inside an organisation or with others, and much more besides.  Today, we take a look at some things you should know when putting your letter together.

Proper Greetings

In general, if you know the individuals you are writing to it is best to direct your letter to them.  You should also take care to use their professional title should you be aware of it (i.e. doctor, priest).  In these cases, the professional title takes precedence over the usual honorifics of Mr, Mrs e.t.c.   

Likewise, when writing to a female recipient, presuming she has no professional title to use, the convention is to use the expression Ms if the recipients marital status is unknown or unimportant. Generally, this is the safest option to use as it is the most equivalent to the male Mr. However, it may, at times, be appropriate to uses Mrs or Miss when addressing married or younger unmarried women as appropriate.  The best rule of thumb is that, unless you have information informing you as to the preference, to rely on Ms when writing correspondence.

Many times you may be writing a letter and will not know necessarily the recipient’s name.  In these cases, it is conventional to begin your letter with “Dear Sir or Madam”.  Another option “To whom it may concern” was also often recommended but has come to be seen as out-dated and even excessively severe.   

Another option you may have, even if you do not know the eventual recipient's name, is to write to the position rather than the person.  For example, if you are writing for a job in the sales team you might begin the letter Dear Sales Manager.  While not as good as having a name, it does at least have the benefit of directing the letter precisely to the person you want to see it. 

Fond Farewells

For a business letter, the traditional ending is “Yours sincerely” if you have addressed an individual by name and “Yours faithfully” if you do not know the name of the person you are writing to.  This is generally the best option for first encounters and impressions where you have yet to develop a personal rapport with the recipient.

However, you may wish to express more familiarity with the recipient in future correspondence, or with less formal methods such as emails.  In these occasions, you may find a variant of Regards to be more appropriate to the sense you want to convey to your reader.  For example; “Kind Regards, Best Regards”.  Other words that may be of use include “Respectfully”, “Yours Truly” and “Thank You”. 

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