How To Start a Letter (With Examples And Tips)

Updated March 10, 2023

Starting a letter can increase your odds of making a good impression on the recipient. Regardless of the letter's intent or context, a good introduction will directly influence its efficiency. Knowing how to start a letter for every occasion is a valuable skill, but it requires practice and a correct assessment of the situation. In this article, we will discuss how to start a letter in different situations.

Why is it important to know how to start a letter?

The opening parts of a letter are meant to give the reader basic information regarding the sender, such as their address, information on the date when the letter was written, a salutation that indicates the tone in which it is written and a short description of what the letter's overall message is.

Knowing the proper way to transmit all these pieces of information depending on the occasion and your relationship with the recipient is likely to influence the level of attention that the reader gives to the letter, as well as their overall opinion and feedback on the letter's message.

Related: How to Date a Letter

How to start a letter

The introductory part of a letter depends on its purpose and recipient. Here are several ways in which you can start a letter, for different occasions:

1. A personal letter

The main elements of a personal letter opening are:

The sender's address

Personal letters typically include the sender's address on the upper right side. This will help the recipient write back to you, as they won't need to save the envelope or contact you in different ways to find out your address. The first line should include your street address and the second line should include other information, such as the city, state and ZIP code.

The date when the letter was written

The date needs to be included under the address, so the reader will know when the letter was composed. This may be useful if the recipient receives multiple letters and wants to organize them by date. The layout should be month-date-year.

The salutation

Addressing the reader in a personal letter should always be done with the word “Dear," followed by their name and a comma. The name should be how you most often address the recipient in conversations. The salutation should be placed on the left side of the page, two lines lower than the date.

An opening question

Personal letters are commonly opened with one or more questions regarding the recipient's activities, interests or well-being.

A statement regarding one of the recipient's activities or statements

An alternative to the opening question is an expression of interest about something that the reader has recently said or done.

Example 1

45 Rockway Boulevard
Austin, Texas 45968
December 10, 2019

Dear Susan,

How are you? How are things at your new job?

Example 2

P.O. Box 34673
Omaha, Nebraska
August 17, 2020

Dear Michael,

Judging from your vacation pictures, you seem to have had an amazing time!

2. A business letter

The main elements of a business letter opening are:

The sender's address

It should be at the top of the letter, on the left or on the right. It can also include a phone number or an email address.

The date

It should be under the address and needs to include the sender's name, month, day and year, in that order.

The recipient's name and address

Unlike personal letters, business letters need to include the recipient's name and their full address, typically on the left-hand side of the letter. There should be an open space between the date and the reader's name and address.

Open with “Dear” only if it's appropriate

“Dear” is the standard opening line for all letters, but it may not be appropriate in some situations. Most business situations allow this opening to be used, but if you feel it may not be appropriate, simply starting off with the recipient's name is a good alternative. Another used opening is “To whom it May Concern”, but it's typically used only when the recipient's name is not known, as otherwise, it tends to be too distant and impersonal.

Have a pleasant approach

No matter what the letter's intent or overall message is, the opening sentence should be positive.

Immediately communicate your purpose

The reason for the letter should be clear right after the opening sentence and should be expressed directly.

Example 1

Michaela Williams
745 Queens Boulevard
New York City, New York 11375

November 13, 2012

To Professor John Wilkins
New York University
New York, NY 10003

Dear Mr. Wilkins,

I hope you're having a great week. I'm writing to inquire about the online availability of your American History course, as I am very much interested in joining your classes.

Example 2

Jeff Wu
5869 Columbus Drive
Akron, Ohio 30486

October 19, 2015

To Dr. John Smith
Smith Clinic
145 Venture Avenue
Akron, Ohio 23463

Dear Dr. Smith,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am on the organizing committee of this year's Platinum Medical Conference that will take place next year in Jacksonville, Florida, on March 14. I am reaching out to invite you to be part of our keynote speakers panel, to present your research conclusions on antibody synthesis and replication.

3. A cover letter

The main elements of a cover letter opening are:

The addresses, sender's name and recipient's name

A cover letter's top part should be identical to that of a business letter.

The salutation

Also in a similar way to a business letter, the salutation can either be “Dear”, followed by the recipient's title and name, or “To whom it may concern” if the recipient's name is unknown.

A summary of the sender's accomplishments

The first part of the letter's text should grab the reader's attention by briefly summarizing the sender's accomplishments.

An expression of gratitude for the opportunity

Given that the purpose of a cover letter is increasing one's chances of getting an interview, the final part of the introduction should express enthusiasm for the open position.

Example 1:

Dan Gilmour
3489 Main Street
Buford, Tennessee 34584

July 17, 2019

To Adriana Gonzales
Gonzales Real Estate
346 Arlington Drive
Nashville, Tennessee 55763

Dear Mrs. Gonzales,

I am a graduate of Haslam College of Business and during my senior year I have been working as an assistant real estate agent for a local company in Buford. I was excited to see your job opening because I am a big fan of your company.

Example 2:

David Williamson
3467 Highland Avenue
Austin, Texas 39586

March 25, 2020

To Natasha Kolarov
Johnson, Kravitz & Kolarov Law Firm
34 Norfolk Drive
Austin, Texas 39496

Dear Mrs. Kolarov,

As a highly skilled legal assistant, I received your job posting with great interest, as I believe I have the skills and qualifications you are seeking.

Related: What Is a Cover Letter?

4. A formal invitation

The main elements of a formal invitation letter opening are:

The spelled-out dates

Regardless of the event, the letter should begin with its date written in a formal style, spelled out instead of using numbers and abbreviations.

The full name of the guests

The names of the invitees should also be spelled out in full, without abbreviations or nicknames.

The name of the hosts and the event

Listing the names of the hosts is an important part of the invitation, irrespective of the event type.

Example 1:

Saturday, the seventeenth of October

To Mark and Jacquelyn Osmond,

Mario and Maria Morientes, along with Jack and Ellen Williams are happy to invite you
to attend the marriage of their children
Adriana Morientes and Brody Williams

Example 2:

To Damien and Suzanna Lee,

John and Whitney Matthews invite you to a dinner in celebration
Of our daughter, Rachel Matthews, graduating college

5. A personal thank-you letter

The main elements of a thank-you letter opening are:

The sender's address

It should be listed in the top-right corner of the letter.

The date

It should be right underneath the address.

The salutation

It should always start with “Dear," followed by the recipient's name. Depending on your relationship with the reader, you can use their first or last name.

A “thank you” within the first sentence

The letter should start with the thank you, within a concise sentence. The rest of the letter can add context to it.

Example 1:

483 Verhoven Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 45967
April 12, 2020

Dear Amanda,

Thank you so much for attending our wedding and for your very generous gift.

Example 2:

23 Arlington Way, Sacramento, California 39458
May 12, 2018

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Johnson,

I am writing to express my gratitude for letting me spend the summer at your retreat.

6. A business thank-you letter

The main elements of a professional thank-you letter opening are:

Your organization's name and address

The full business address and name of your company should be written in the top right corner

The date

It should be written underneath the address.

The name of the recipient

It should be written one line beneath the date, starting from the left. It can be skipped if the letter addresses a group of people, instead of a single person.

The contact's address

The full business address of the recipient should be listed under the date.

The salutation

You will know the recipient's name in most situations, so the salutation should be “Dear," followed by “Mr.” or “Mrs.” and the recipient's last name. If you are addressing a larger group of people, the salutation can be “To”, followed by the name of the organization or department you are addressing to.

A “thank you” within the first sentence

The thank you and its reasoning should be outlined within the first sentence.

Example 1:

Morgan Steel, 345 Preston Road, Dallas Texas
June 15, 2019

To Paul Alan Smith
Pristine Waterworks, 406 Ventura Lane, Irving Texas

Dear Paul,

I am writing to thank you for honoring the contract with our company in the most professional and timely manner.

Example 2:

Scranton Air Conditioning, 39 Michigan Avenue, Seattle Washington
August 10, 2018
Washington Clinic, 43 Bellevue Road, Seattle Washington

To the entire staff at the Washington Clinic,

On behalf of our organization, we would like to thank you for the excellent care you have shown to our staff during our recent health crisis.

Related: Business Letter Format and Example

Tips for starting a letter

These tips apply to most situations and will likely enhance the impact of your letter opening:

  • Show your personality: It's important to remember that, even in business situations, the letter recipient is human. Without exaggerating, it's usually good to use a personal touch when it comes to the letter's wording

  • Use specific wording: Clear and to the point introductions generally work better than generic ones.

  • Keep it to the point: In both formal and informal situations, the first part of the letter should immediately show the reader what the letter's purpose is.


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