The need to write a letter arises frequently in our lives. Though email is now the preferred way to communicate over postal mail, the format of letters remains the same. Meaning, we need to use the same etiquette and language to address a letter for any reason.
Therefore, if you’ve to write one for yourself or others, it’s only proper that you know the correct way to address a letter.
Before we proceed, let’s first learn exactly what the term ‘letter’ actually means and why it’s important how to write and address a letter correctly.
Definition of a Letter
In simplest terms, a letter is a message written with a purpose. It can be addressed to an individual, family, group of people, or an organization. Therefore, there’re different types of letters, which I will discuss later in the article.
A letter is also an important document. It’s a record of some action either in personal or professional life. Generally, all letters have legal validity while a few have financial implications too. Because a letter is a written record of a person’s intentions or actions.
These are some of the main reasons we need to know how to address a letter.
Addressing a letter wrongly can lead to unnecessary delays and cause financial losses. Or at least, it can leave a poor impression about the sender of the letter.
On the other hand, a properly addressed letter can open doors to opportunities, defuse a critical situation or give hope and strength to someone in times of distress.
Different Types of Common Letters
Here’re some broad categories of letters we write. These can also be in the form of an email.
- Cover letter: Usually written while applying for a job. It is called a cover letter because it encloses a Curriculum Vitae or Resume.
- Acceptance Letter: When we accept an offer for a job or business proposal. It symbolizes our acceptance of terms and conditions and the willingness to take the job or business offer.
- Resignation Letter: A compulsory document that we need to submit to leave the services of an employer.
- Termination Letter: Often used to discontinue services of a person or organization for any reason.
- Condolence Letter: As the term signifies, a condolence letter is written to share grief with a person or family that has lost a beloved member and to express that we stand with them during their distress.
- Open Letter: Generally an appeal made to a public official or department expressing dissatisfaction or gratitude over something that affects a large number of people such as a community, village, town, city or a nation, or even an organization.
- Recommendation Letter: To recommend someone for a grant, scholarship, loan, visa, job, or freelance work.
- Gratitude Letter: When we wish to express gratitude or say thanks to someone for something.
- Letter of Complaint/ Grievance: This letter is written to register a complaint or grievance with or about a person, service, or situation.
- Letter of Appreciation: For appreciating an individual, group, or organization for exceptional services they render for anything. A letter of appreciation is useful for encouraging employees.
Regardless of the type or category, a letter consists of various parts. Therefore, each has to be written carefully and only after due thought.
Different Parts of a Letter
Addressing and writing a letter becomes easier when we know its different parts or components. Paying close attention to these can have the necessary impact on the receiver.
- Name & Address of the Recipient
- Subject Line
- Purpose of the Letter
- Call to Action
- Closing Lines
- Time & Place (Optional)
When we comprehend these components of a letter clearly, it becomes easier to address a letter. Because we have to address the person or organization in a different way, depending upon the purpose.
How to Address a Letter?
Now let’s see how to address a letter.
In general, there’re two distinct ways to address a letter. One of them is informal, which is useful while writing personal letters to people we know. And when we don’t have any official business.
The second is a formal address, which is mainly useful to write letters for work and business of any kind.
Informal Way to Address a Letter
There’s no need to use any business etiquette while writing an informal letter since it would be usually addressed to a relative or friend.
You can safely use words such as:
- Dear First Name.
- Hello, First Name.
- Hi, First Name.
- You can use Dear, Hello, or Hi followed by the relationship title such as Dear Dad, Hi Uncle, Hello Mom, and so on. If you wish, use the first name for uncles, aunts, and siblings, or other relatives. Never use the first name to address a parent.
- Or you can get creative and create your own form of address.
You can choose the words to address this letter depending on the relationship you enjoy with that person.
While writing to a person senior to you in age, especially friends, use Mr. or Ms. And mention their first name or family name. This is superb personal etiquette.
Formal Ways to Address a Letter
The formal way to address a letter depends upon its purpose. And since it can have legal or financial validity, we need to use the correct business etiquette.
How to Address a Cover Letter
To address a cover letter, always use the full name and designation as well as the name of the organization and its office address.
Always start the letter with a simple ‘Sir’ or Madam, Dear Mr. or Ms. First & Family Name. In the second line, write the correct designation of this person.
How to Address an Acceptance Letter
Since an acceptance letter signifies that you agree to the terms and conditions of the job or business, it’s always best to address it directly to the person making the offer. That’s because an acceptance letter has both legal and financial implications and it’s a document that both parties will maintain in their record.
Address a letter of acceptance for business by mentioning the full name of the person that’s made the offer followed by designation, name of the organization, and complete address.
Use the prefix Messrs. Because here we’re dealing with the organization. By writing the prefix Messrs., we’re addressing the letter not only to the person but the entire organization.
For example, Dear Messrs. Full Name, followed by designation and the full address is the right way to address an acceptance letter.
While writing a letter of acceptance for a job, the name, designation, and address of the person and organization are sufficient. For example, Dear. Mr. or Ms.
How to Address a Resignation Letter
Addressing a resignation letter is very simple. You have to address it to your immediate senior or the Human Resources Manager or Admin Manager.
Since you’ll already know these persons, mention them clearly by name and designation. Adding the company name is optional since you’ll be mentioning your designation and the organization in the body of the letter.
Always use the word ‘Dear’ before the name and prefix, since it involves an official relationship and you’re leaving the services of the company.
How to Address a Termination Letter
Hopefully, you’ll never have to write a termination letter. But if you have to write one, the way to address one is very simple too.
Merely state the full name of the person and the designation they hold. And begin the letter by Mr. Full Name or Ms. Full Name
For terminating a business deal or contract, address the letter as Messrs. Full Name followed by the company name.
How to Address a Condolence Letter
A condolence letter is very sensitive. It’s written to express bereavement and share grief with a family or person whose beloved relative has passed away. Hence, we need to address a condolence letter very carefully.
Address your condolence letter as Mr. Full Name & Family or Ms. Full Name & Family.
For example Mr. ABC XYZ & the XYZ Family.
Start your condolence letter by specifically mentioning the word ‘Dear’ followed by full name and family name in the above format.
Address the deceased person respectfully with the prefix Mr. or Ms. as applicable followed by the first name. Mention the relationship between the deceased person and the one you’re addressing in the letter.
For example: “…..over the sad demise of your (relation), Mr. Full Name or Ms. Full Name…..”
Here it’s important to address both, the person to whom you’re writing the letter as well as the person that’s passed away. We mention the full name of the deceased person and relationship as a mark of respect.
If possible, also address each member of the family in the closing lines of the letter and express your condolences to all of them.
How to Address an Open Letter
An open letter isn’t private. Instead, it’s published in a newspaper or a website, or a signboard. Generally, an open letter is an appeal, complaint, and sometimes, for gratitude.
In such situations, it’s best to avoid the name of the official while addressing the letter. Simply use words such as Dear Mr. President, Dear Ms. General Secretary followed by the name of the country or organization.
At the same time, you can use the name of the person in the title of the letter. For example ‘Open Letter to President of XYZ, Mr. PQR’.
We avoid addressing this letter by name since an open letter is generally to a public figure who holds office for a short term. However, the validity of an open letter can be longer than this term, and hence, we can address the other person who takes the post at a later date too.
How to Address a Letter of Recommendation
Writing a letter of recommendation can prove tricky.
If you know the person or have the name or designation of the person to address it, things are easy. In such cases, address the letter using the prefix Mr. or Ms. followed by the full name, designation, and organization.
And if you’re writing an open letter of recommendation, simply use the words: ‘To Whomsoever it Concern’. Using these words to address a letter saves you the hassle of writing several recommendation letters to unknown entities.
How to Address a Gratitude Letter
As I explained earlier, a gratitude letter is to express thanks to someone or an organization or group for its services. Hence, this letter should be addressed with some emotion. You can use words such as ‘Dearest Mr.’ or ‘Dearest Ms.’ or ‘Dearest Messrs.’
If it’s something personal that you wish to thank a person for, you can leave out the full address, designation, and other details. Instead, try using the informal way to address a letter. And if you’re thanking a group or organization, address it to them specifically while drawing attention to the person in charge.
How to Address a Letter of Complaint/ Grievance
A letter of complaint or letter of grievance has legal and financial complications. And it’s necessary to maintain one in your records. Therefore, address it to the person using only Sir, Madam, or Mr. or Ms. Full Name.
For organizations too, use the full name of the person but use Messrs. That’s because your grievance is against a company or group and not any specific individual.
How to Address a Letter of Appreciation
A letter of appreciation is something the receiver will cherish and keep in records for a long. Generally, a letter of appreciation is given for exceptional service either to an individual such as an employee or company, or group.
Address the letter of appreciation with ‘Dear Mr. Full Name’ or Dear Ms. Full Name’ for individuals followed by their designation and personal or residential address. For businesses, address the letter of appreciation to Messrs. Name of Organization followed by office location and postal code. You can draw the attention of this letter to an official in charge.
Forms of Address to Avoid
Never use these words to address a letter. Though these words are commonly used in English and there’s no harm, it’s best to shun them completely. Because such words are commonly used by scammers who send emails and letters in what is commonly known as ‘Nigerian Scam’.
The Nigerian Scam derives its name because it originated in that African country, though the letter or email can come from anywhere.
These forms of address to avoid include:
- Dearest Beloved
- Dear Trusted One
- Dear Faithful in God
- Dearest Honorable
- My Dear Rightful & Respected
Actually, these are archaic English forms of addressing a letter but are extensively used by Nigerian scammers. These scammers usually claim to be relatives of some VIP and speak about wealth stashed away at some secret place. They’ll offer a share if you cooperate. Later, these scammers ask you for advance fees to pay you millions of dollars- that doesn’t exist.
Nowadays, we readily find templates to address people and write various types of letters. Whether or not to use them is your choice. However, writing the letter and addressing it in the ways that I’ve shown above could be useful if you wish to make a strong impression on the reader. You can blend these ways to address a letter and adapt some templates, if necessary.