How To Formally Address a Letter to a Business (With FAQ)
Updated March 16, 2023
When sending a letter to a business, it’s important for you to present yourself in a way that’s professional, direct and achieves an appropriate level of formality for the relationship you’re attempting to cultivate with said business. The first step in achieving this professional tone is by learning how to properly address business letters to a company.
In this article, we explain how to address a business letter so you can establish professional relationships from the start.
How to address a formal business letter
An illustration of hands in the process of composing a letter on a blank piece of paper, with golden geometric shapes in the background.
The tone of a business letter is set based on how the letter is addressed both in the heading of the letter and on the envelope. It is important to choose the right wording to implement a professional setting, give proper respect to the recipient and keep the attention on the requested actions of the business to which you are addressing.
How to address the envelope
The professionalism of a corporate letter starts with the envelope. Not only is a correctly addressed envelope critical to getting your letter delivered to the correct person or department, but the envelope also presents the opportunity to make the best first impression on your recipient. Here’s how to address a professional letter envelope correctly:
1. Start with your contact information
The envelope should include a return address in the top left corner to ensure the letter is returned to you if it cannot be delivered and to provide insight to the recipient on who is corresponding. This can prevent the letter from being tossed away or considered spam. The return address on a business envelope should include:
Your company's name (if applicable)
Your mailing address
2. Include recipient information
If you are addressing the letter to a specific person, your envelope address should include:
The recipient's title and full name
The company name
The company mailing address
If you are addressing the letter to a department rather than a singular person, the address on the envelope should include:
The company name
The abbreviation "Attn" followed by a colon the department name (i.e., "Attn: Creative Team")
The company mailing address
How to address the letter
A formal business letter has several important elements that should be included. Here’s how to address a professional letter:
1. Start with the header
Addressing a business letter starts with an appropriate heading at the top left side of the page, followed by a professional salutation. A typical heading for a business letter includes:
Your full name
Your city, state and zip code
The best phone number to reach you
Your email address
The date the letter is written
Contact's full name (if known)
Company city, state and ZIP code
2. Include the right salutation
The heading should be followed by a proper salutation, which is a word or phrase that opens the letter and directly addresses the reader. The salutation is typically followed by a comma or a colon.
The most common salutation used in both formal and informal business letters is "Dear." In formal scenarios, the salutation should always be to the point, curt and professional. Typically, formal greetings include "Dear," the title of the recipient and the recipient's last name. Then, you may end the salutation with a colon as opposed to a comma. For example:
"Dear Mr. Williams:"
"Dear Professor Williams:"
Some other common greetings that are equally professional include:
"To Whom It May Concern,"
"Ladies and Gentlemen,"
While typically formal letters include the recipient's title and surname, it is recommended that you do not gender the name of the correspondent if you are not positive of their pronouns. For example, as opposed to "Dear Mr. Williams" or "Dear Ms. Williams," you could address the letter as:
"Dear Leslie Williams,"
"Dear Professor Williams,"
In addition, if you are not positive of the marital status of a female correspondent, it is best to use "Ms." or to leave off the pronoun entirely. For example, instead of "Dear Miss Williams" or "Dear Mrs. Williams," you could use:
"Dear Leslie Williams"
"Dear Ms. Williams"
"Dear Professor Williams"
If you're writing to two people in a formal scenario, address the letter to both recipients in alphabetical order, or address the organization they are a part of as a whole. For example:
"Dear Mr. Williams and Ms. Jones:"
"Dear [Business Name] Development Team:"
If you're unsure of the exact recipient or department of which your letter will be received, it is best to use a generic, formal phrase. For example:
"Dear Hiring Manager:"
If you don't know the full name of the recipient, it is recommended you research to your best ability. You can email the company to find the proper contact or search the company's employees on social media, as this shows initiative beyond a generic correspondence. If you still can't find the recipient's information, it is acceptable to address an informal letter using their last name, the organization they are part of or without a name at all. For example:
"Hello Mr. Williams,"
"Dear Hiring Manager,"
"Dear [Company Name] Team Member,"
"To Whom It May Concern,"
There may also be cases in which you in which to address the company as a whole department at the company. In this situation, it is advisable to use the company name in your greeting. If you do not know the department in which your letter will be received, it is also acceptable to use a generic greeting. For example:
"Dear [Company Name],"
"Dear [Company Name/Department Name] Department,"
3. Use a professional closing
A closing sentence for a business letter should include a call-to-action and then a curt closing phrase before your signature. Some examples of call-to-action sentences include:
"I look forward to hearing from you soon."
"I appreciate your quick response."
"Please keep me informed."
"We eagerly await your reply."
The most professional closing phrase is "Sincerely," but you may also choose to use phrases such as:
If the letter is being mailed, leave a space below the closing phrase to sign your name, and then type out your full name.
Related: 22 Business Letter Closing Examples
FAQs about addressing business letters
Here are answers to frequently asked questions about addressing formal business letters:
How do you know if a business letter should be formal or informal?
Typically, letters to businesses should be formal. In the following scenarios, a formal, straightforward tone is to be expected:
Inquiry for a business partnership
Cover letter for a job application
Request for business information
Proposal to purchase your goods or services
However, there are cases in which you may write an informal letter to a business. For example, it may be appropriate to reduce formalities if:
You already have a working relationship with the company.
You are not making a request of the company (i.e., sending a gift or holiday greeting card).
You're applying for a position at an organization with a uniquely casual company culture.
Related: How To Write a Professional Email
Why is knowing how to send a business letter important?
Sending a business letter is the most formal way to professionally connect and make a good impression on your recipient. However, in a world of rapidly evolving technology, many businesses regard professionally addressed emails as well as personalized messages on career sites as viable options for professional communication.
It is recommended that you research the company with which you are trying to form a relationship and make an educated decision regarding which method of contact is the best option for the type of business you wish to conduct.
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