The salutation is the opening salvo of any business letter. It’s another one of those components that has more downside than upside — doing it badly will leave a poor impression with your reader. And that’s all the more reason to make sure that you master the salutation.The goal of the salutation is to personalize your business letter. Just as you use a person’s name when you speak to them, you want to do the same with your business letter.
All of us have received generic letters that begin with openers like this:
* Dear Sir,
* Dear Madam,
* Dear Sir/Madam,
* Dear Sir or Madam,
* Dear Homeowner,
* Dear Small Business Owner,
* Dear Customer,
* To Whom it May Concern,
With rare exceptions, letters that begin this way head straight for the trash bin, be it digital or literal. You’d be better off skipping the salutation than opening with one of these clunkers.
In concept, personalizing the salutation is easy. You just need to know the name of the person you’re addressing.
* Dear Bart,
* Dear Homer Simpson,
* Marge Simpson,
* Dear Mr. Szyslak,
* Dear Ned Flanders and Edna Krabappel,
* Dear Mr. and Mrs. Simpson,
There are variations on the “Dear Name” or “Name” format, but unless you have a really good reason to mix it up, stick with the tried and true.
Be careful though, you can actually do more damage by bungling the name than you can gain through personalization. If you’re writing a single letter, personalizing is straightforward. However, most often you’ll be sending many letters and that means using mail merge. And mail merge gaffes can result in salutation dohs! For instance:
* Dear Simpson Homer,
* Dear Simpson,
* Dear Mrs. Homer and Mr. Marge Simpson,
* Dear Simpson Homer Marge and Simpson,
* Dear Krabappel, Edna and Mrs.
Change the names and I’ve received all these variations and many more. Errors like this will get your letter escorted to the trashcan faster than any generic variation you can concoct.
There’s one other thing to remember: spelling counts. These are people’s names, so any spelling error will jump out at them. That’s particularly true for people with names that are often misspelled; they’re used to it and they’ll spot it even more quickly. If you don’t know whether it’s Tomkins or Thompkins or Tompkins or Thomkins, don’t send it until you know for sure.