How To Address A Letter With Formal Business Etiquette

It can be a simple, yet powerful thing. Knowing how to properly address the person you’re speaking to in your business letter or professional letter. Saying something like, “Hi Tom” will come off unprofessional, informal and could lose the impact of your message.

As our communication methods become more informal, thanks to tools like Slack and SMS, we need to remember how to properly address someone in a business setting.

We’re going to go over how you should properly address someone and where to put that in your business letter.

Table Of Contents

The Honorifics Of The Person You’re Addressing

Using an honorific can be a powerful way to turn your letter into a professional one. The use of “Mr” and “Mrs” can be extremely respectful and open the conversation on a strong foot.

Here are the honorifics you might commonly use:

  • Mr.
  • Mrs.
  • Miss
  • Ms.
  • Mx.
  • Sir
  • Dr.
  • Lady
  • Lord

Here are their intended uses:

  • Mr: When you are addressing a man with the marital status of "not single". Meaning they are married. For example, “Mr. President”
  • Mrs: When you are addressing a woman with a marital status of "not single". Meaning, they are married. For example, “Mrs. Doubtfire”
  • Miss: When you are addressing a woman who doesn’t have a marital status. This person would be a single woman.
  • Ms: Another form of “Miss”.
  • Mx: A newer, gender-neutral honorific for this who don’t wish to specify their gender.
  • Sir: For when you are addressing a man, formally. Sir is often used in British knighthood. Sir should be a second choice to “Mr.”
  • Dr: When you are addressing someone who has received their Ph.D.
  • Lady: A woman who has British ranks of a baroness, countess or other.
  • Lord: A man who has a British rank of baron, earls or marquesses.

Which Honorific Is Right For Me

When choosing your honorific to address your letter with, pick which one you think is best. In a professional setting, you won’t be able to know whether or not someone is married. Because of this, it is always more flattering to use “Ms.” when addressing a woman. Or if you know they are married, let’s say you’ve had a previous business relationship, then use “Mrs.”

For gentlemen, it is always best to use “Mr.”. Staying clear of “Sir” is advised as the use of “Sir” has been correlated to SPAM filters now. A relevant introduction that has gone away is “To Whom It May Concern”.

How To Put Together An Honorific And Letter Introduction

It is always advised to use someone’s full name. If you know their middle initial, this can take the formality to another level as well.

Here are a few examples:

  • Dear Dr. Johnson
  • Dear Dr. Joseph F. Johnson
  • Dr. Joseph F. Johnson
  • Dear Mr. Josh Johnson
  • Dear Mr. Josh J. Johnson

If you don’t know the first name of the person you’re addressing, stick to using only their last time and their honorific. This is absolutely okay.

How It Looks To Address Someone In A Letter

Here is an example letter using the proper contact information and honorific.

John Smith
123 Street Road., New York NY 12211
555-666-7777
[email protected]

11/12/20

Ian Single
CEO
Apple, Inc.
1 Infinite Loop, San Francisco, CA 94122
[email protected]

Dear Mr. Ian Single:

I wanted to write to you to thank you for the time that you spent with me this week. Getting a tour of your facility was absolutely breathtaking to me. I was able to learn so much about your production process and how your business works.

This was incredibly valuable to me and I wanted to send you this note as a form of a thank you.

If you’d like to reach me, you can find me at johnsmith.com or [email protected] for my email.

Thank you so much,
Mr. John Smith

Using A Honorific For Your Name, Too

Whenever possible, during the reference of yourself in the formal letter body, use an honorific for yourself. Just like you did for the recipient, include yours. For example, if you are a gentleman and you are married, address yourself with the “Mr” honorific.

This will help the letter to appear more formal and will ensure that the reader knows you have respect for yourself. In a way, this shows confidence and maturity, as well.

What If You Don’t Have Their Name

If you are trying to create a professional letter where you might not have the person's name, for example, if you are sending a cover letter, avoid using “To Whom It May Concern”. Learn about all the recommendations that web ave for addressing someone properly in your cover letter right here.

Why Is Addressing Someone Properly & Professionally So Important

This process is critical because it shows your ability to communicate in a proper business setting. For example, your boss or professional contact now understands that you know how to send a letter that is formal, addressed properly, and shows respect. This can do wonders for your career.

What Should I Put On An Envelope

If you are writing a printed letter and wondering how to address someone on an envelope, it is the same method. Be sure that you include the “Mr.” and/or “Mrs.” honorific and then include their address (street address, city, state, and zip code) as part of the regular US mail protocol.

Additional Business Letter Resources

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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