Formally Addressing a Business Letter

Posted December 10, 2021

It’s always important to present yourself in a professional manner when interacting with others in a formal setting. One of the first steps is knowing how to send a formal business letter that is appropriate in formality, direct, and helps cultivate a professional rapport with the addressed business. Knowing how to properly address a business letter meant for a company is an essential first step to achieving a good relationship with the intended company.

Formal Business Letter

Whether or not the letter is properly addressed on both the envelope and header sets the tone for the rest of the letter. Choosing the right language is important to portray respect to the recipient and set a professional tone. As well as keeping the meaning of the letter in perspective whether it's a requested action or timely response. This article will explain the necessary steps to take to properly address a business letter.

Addressing the envelope

It’s important to portray professionalism in every part of your letter starting with the front of the envelope. The envelope provides a great opportunity to make a great first impression, as well as critical to making sure the envelope is delivered to the correct recipient. Read on to learn how to address and professional letter envelope properly:

Contact information  

Be sure to include your return address on the top left corner of the envelope. This will ensure that the letter is returned to you if it doesn’t make it to the intended addressee. This will also ensure the letter will not be considered spam and thrown out. Make sure you include the following on the top left front corner of your envelope:

  • Your full name (title if desired)
  • Your company’s name (if applicable)
  • Your mailing address

Recipient information

When you are writing to a specific person make sure you use the addressees full name and title, their company’s name, and the company’s mailing address. This information goes in the center of the front of your envelope below your own information:

  • The recipient's title and full name
  • The recipient’s company name
  • Their company mailing address

But if you are writing to a department and not a specific person, make sure you include the company’s name, the department name, and the company’s mailing address using this format: 

  • XYZ Company
  • Attn: Department name
  • Company mailing address

Addressing the letter

There are several important elements you should include in a formal business letter. Here’s what to include on a professional letter:

Use a proper header

Be sure to use an appropriate header on the top left corner of the page. The format of this address header should include some or all of the following elements in this order followed by a salutation:

  1. Your first and last name
  2. Your full address
  3. Your preferred contact information
  4. The date the letter is written
  5. The addressee’s full name and title
  6. Their company name and address

Use the correct greeting

After the heading include a professional salutation followed by a comma. A salutation is a greeting addressing the reader, in this case its used to begin the business letter. You will see many letters begun with the salutation “Dear (addressee),” in both professional and personal letters. In formal professional letters the salutation should be short and to the point. If you choose to use “Dear” followed by the recipient’s title and name, you may follow the salutation with a colon and not a comma. For example, 

"Dear Mrs. Vine,"        or          "Dear Professor Mackie,"

If you choose to use a different salutation or do not know the direct name or title of who you are greeting, some good examples of greetings are:

  • “To Whom it May Concern,”          
  • “(Recipients first name,)”
  • “Hello,”
  • “Greetings,”

These options may also work well as a greeting if you are not sure of the person's pronouns. If you are not completely sure, it's best to not gender the name of the person you wish to correspond with. As an example, instead of “Dear Mrs. Vine” use “Dear Alex Vine” or simply using the title you do know such as “Dear Professor Vine” or “Dear Dr. Vine”.

The same precaution should be taken of the marital status of the women you are corresponding with. The standard would be “Ms.” Avoiding the terms such as “Miss” and “Mrs.”. It's best to use a professional title such as “Professor” or the recipient’s full name. 

If you are needing to correspond with two people in a single formal letter, address the letter to both individuals with their names in alphabetical order. As an example:

  •  “Dear Alex Vine and Steven Williams”

When you aren’t sure of the exact title or even name of the intended recipient, choose a generic but still formal greeting such as:

  • “Dear Hiring Manager,”
  • “Dear Sir or Madam,”
  • “Dear Human Resources Department,”

It’s useful to try and research your recipient's full name and title as best as you can. Look at a company’s directory or reach out to the company via email to procure the correct name and title of the person you wish to contact. In the case where you cannot find the intended addressee’s information you may use just their last name or known title. In a pinch you could address the letter more informally with something like 

  • “Dear [Company Name] Team Member”
  • “To Whom it May Concern”
  • “Greetings [Company Name]” 

You may also find yourself needing to write a company as a whole or just a specific department. In this case you may use the company name or company name and department in the greeting. It is also acceptable to employ a generic greeting if you don’t know the department your letter is destined for. Examples include: 

  • "Dear [Company Name],"
  • "To Whom It May Concern,"

A professional closing

Using a professional closing can not only provide a strong closing but it also an invitation for a response. These can look something like this:

  • “Let me know if you have any questions.”
  • “I’m looking forward to hearing your response.”
  • “Thank you ahead of time.”
  • “Please feel free to reach out with any concerns” 

Ending a professional letter with "Sincerely," is one of the most professional ways to end a letter. Some other good options would be:

  • “Regards,”
  • “Many Thanks,”
  • “Best,”
  • “Thank you,”
  • “Cordially,”

When you have written a letter to be mailed, leave a space under the closing line so you can add your signature as well as typing out your full name so it's clearly legible.


Some commonly asked questions and answers

1. How do I know when a letter should be formal or informal?

Usually, a letter should be formal when it’s written to a company. Certain specific scenarios that require a professional and formal toned letter are as follows:

  • A cover letter along with a resume and job application
  • A request for information from a company
  • An inquiry for a partnership from business
  • An offer to purchase goods or services

Additionally, an informal letter can be written to a business and sent in certain circumstances. A less formal letter with reduced formalities can be sent when:

  • You are communicating among your workplace and therefore already have a working relationship 
  • You are sending a gift, holiday, or other friendly greeting
  • When you are communicating with a company that is notoriously informal

2. Why is it so important I know how to send and address a formal business letter?

One of the most professional and formal ways to connect and network with a company is by sending a formal business letter. Most companies, however, will accept emails or even messages through careers websites as professional communication in which most skills will still apply. In this case a PDF of your properly formatted and addressed letter can be attached to a email with an intriguing hook and subject line that catches their attention

Be sure you research the anticipated recipient company before you send a letter or email. This will help you to make an educated guess as to what type of communication would be ideal for your communication thread. Some companies may be willing to chat over a third-party site, but some may still wish to receive a hard copy or your resume or other important documents. 

Either way, it’s a valuable skill to be able to write strong and effective business communication in formal and informal settings. Being prepared and knowledgeable ahead of time will save you the effort and worry when it comes time to write a formal business letter. You will not only appear confident and knowledgeable to your peers, but also save yourself some time and effort.

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