About 70 percent of the questions I get from readers are about salutations for business letters. Here are some recent ones. For much more about letter and email greetings, see the links below.
Question: We are sending out a mass mailing to inform our patients of a change within our practice. We do not want to address each patient by name or sound too informal by using Dear Sir/Madam or To Whom It May Concern. What do you suggest?
Answer: Try addressing them in their category, such as “Dear Patients and Friends.” This approach works for addressing many kinds of groups such as neighbors, art lovers, and hobbyists (“Dear Neighbors,” etc.).
Question: If I am writing a casual business letter to Mr. John R. Smith III, should I use “Dear Mr. Smith” or “Dear Mr. Smith III”? The full name appears in the address, so there won’t be any confusion with the father, who may work closely with the son.
Answer: According to The Gregg Reference Manual, abbreviations such as Jr. and Sr. are not used with a surname (last name) alone. Gregg also leaves out abbreviations such as Esq. and Ph.D. in the greeting. Given that pattern, I recommend “Dear Mr. Smith.” The formality or casualness of the letter is not a factor.
Question: Students must send original thank you notes to the donor of their scholarship. In the past, the donor of a particular scholarship was a married couple. Now they are divorced. It does not seem appropriate to request that students write two original separate thank-you notes for one scholarship. What is the correct salutation they can use on one letter?
For example, the original donors might be John and Jane Smith, but now this couple is divorced and they both still have the same last name. Mr. Smith has remarried but Mrs. Smith has not. Should the salutation be “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Smith”? What is an alternative?
Answer: The student should write two thank-you notes, one to “Dear Mr. Smith,” who donated the scholarship, and the other to “Dear Mrs. Smith” (the first one), who also donated. If you happen to learn that the first Mrs. Smith prefers Ms. as her title, change your records and the greeting.