How to Start a Letter (and Mistakes to Avoid)

How to Start a Letter: Professional Greeting Examples

Starting a letter with the appropriate professional greeting sets the tone for the entire message and conveys respect to the recipient. Choosing the right salutation can make all the difference and help you make a great first impression. This article will explore various professional greeting examples and provide guidance on how to begin a letter for different scenarios while highlighting common mistakes to avoid.

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Professional Greeting

Formal Salutation

When composing a professional letter or email, it is important to begin with a formal salutation. A formal salutation sets the tone for the rest of the communication and demonstrates respect towards the recipient. When addressing someone with their last name, it is appropriate to use “Dear Mr./Ms. Lastname,” followed by a colon or a comma. For example:

  • Dear Mr. Smith,
  • Dear Ms. Johnson:

If you are unsure of the person’s gender, you can use their full name instead, such as “Dear Taylor Green, …”.

Greeting with First Name

In some cases, using the recipient’s first name can be acceptable, especially when you have an established relationship or the communication is less formal. When addressing someone by their first name, use “Dear” followed by the person’s first name and a comma. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Dear Lisa,
  • Dear Tom,

Make sure to consider the nature of your relationship and the context of the communication to determine if it is appropriate to use the person’s first name.

Generic Salutation

When the recipient’s name is unknown or you’re unsure of the appropriate salutation, a generic greeting can be used. A safe option is to address the letter using “Dear Sir or Madam,” or “To Whom It May Concern.” These greetings maintain a level of professionalism while accommodating situations when specific information is unavailable.

  • Dear Sir or Madam,
  • To Whom It May Concern:

Keep in mind that it’s always better to find the recipient’s name if possible, as using a generic salutation can appear impersonal.

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Choose the appropriate salutation based on the context, the nature of the relationship, and any available information about the recipient.


Examples of Professional Greeting

  1. Formal, recipient not known:
    • To Whom It May Concern
    • Dear Sir or Madam
  2. Formal, recipient known:
    • Dear Mr. Smith
    • Dear Ms. Johnson
  3. Informal, recipient known well:
    • Dear Alex
    • Hi Jessica

Mistakes to Avoid

Using informal greetings for formal letters

Mixing a casual tone with a professional letter can seem unprofessional and misrepresent the purpose of your message.


Incorrect: Hey there, Mr. Johnson

Correct: Dear Mr. Johnson

Assuming gender when addressing someone

When you don’t know the recipient’s gender, avoid using “Mr.” or “Mrs.” and stick with a gender-neutral salutation.


Incorrect: Dear Mrs. Lee

Correct: Dear Lee

Spelling the recipient’s name wrong

Double-check the spelling of the recipient’s name: misspelling it can come across as disrespectful or careless.


Incorrect: Dear Mr. Jonson

Correct: Dear Mr. Johnson

Using a generic greeting when the recipient’s name is known

Addressing someone by their name shows effort and attention to detail.


Incorrect: To Whom It May Concern

Correct: Dear Dr. Smith

Too much information in the opening line

Keep the opening line of your letter concise and get straight to the point, avoiding unnecessary information.


  • Incorrect: In regards to our conversation yesterday about…
  • Correct: Regarding our recent conversation…
Expressing opinion

While expressing your viewpoint may be appropriate in some contexts, avoid imposing personal opinions when drafting a professional letter. Instead, focus on providing facts and evidence to support your message.

This approach ensures that the letter maintains a neutral and respectful tone, which is crucial for effective communication in a professional setting.

Example 1: Instead of “I think the manager is incompetent,” write “There have been several instances that raise concerns about the manager’s ability to handle the situation effectively.”

Example 2: Instead of “The new policy is terrible and will hurt the company,” write “The new policy may have unintended consequences (provide details) that could impact the company negatively.”

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Incorrect punctuation

Proper punctuation is essential for conveying your message clearly and professionally. Missing or misused punctuation can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Always review your letter for punctuation errors and maintain consistency in the usage of punctuation marks like periods, commas, and semicolons.

Incorrect grammar

Grammar mistakes can make the letter difficult to understand and give an unprofessional impression. Ensure that your sentences are complete, and your subject-verb agreement is correct. Take advantage of online grammar check tools to help you identify and correct errors.

How to Start a Letter

Business Letter

Begin the first paragraph by introducing yourself and the purpose of the letter. For example:

Dear Ms. Smith,

My name is John Doe, and I am writing to discuss the recent changes in our partnership agreement…

Cover Letter

In the first paragraph, introduce yourself and mention the specific job for which you are applying. State where you found the job posting or share a mutual connection if applicable. For example:


Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name,

I am writing to apply for the position of Marketing Manager at ABC Company, as advertised on LinkedIn…


Tips for Effective Communication

Email Communication

Email has become one of the most widely used forms of communication, especially in professional environments. To ensure proper communication through email, keep subject lines clear and concise. Make sure your message stays focused and organized, with the most important points first. Avoid using slang or emoticons, as they could be seen as unprofessional. Always proofread your emails before hitting send.


  1. Subject line: Meeting Request – Project Update – May 15
  2. Using bullet points to list key items.
  3. Signing off with a formal closing, such as “Best regards” or “Sincerely”.

Handwritten Letters

Handwritten letters are seen as more personal and thoughtful compared to digital messages. However, this form of communication also requires attention to detail. Start the letter with the recipient’s full address and the date on the left-hand side. After a space, begin the letter with an appropriate salutation, such as “Dear” followed by the recipient’s title and name.

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  1. Opening with “Dear Dr. Smith,” instead of “Hi there,”
  2. Keeping paragraphs short and focused on one topic.
  3. Using a closing line like “Yours sincerely” before signing your name.

Thank You Letters

A thank you letter should express gratitude and reinforce a positive image of the sender. Keep it brief, generally no longer than one page, and focus on the specific reason you are thanking the recipient. Maintain a polite and respectful tone, and personalize the message by mentioning specific details or experiences you appreciate. Lastly, don’t delay in sending the letter; it’s best to send it within a few days of the event, interaction, or receipt of a gift.


  1. Sending a thank you letter within 48 hours of a job interview.
  2. Mentioning the helpful advice or support provided by the recipient.
  3. Closing with a friendly, but professional sentiment like “Warm regards”.

Related: How to Write a Perfect Thank You Email After an Interview

Communicating with a Company Recruiter

When communicating with a company recruiter, it’s essential to maintain a professional and courteous demeanor. Address any correspondence with the recruiter’s title and name, and demonstrate your interest in the position and company. Be concise in your communication, and provide clear, relevant information on your qualifications and experience. Remember to always proofread your messages and avoid using abbreviations or informal language.


  1. Attaching a well-formatted resume and cover letter to an email.
  2. Addressing the recruiter as “Ms. Johnson” instead of using their first name.
  3. Responding promptly and professionally to messages or requests for additional information.

Always be mindful of your word choice, the recipient’s perspective, and the purpose of your letter, to ensure that your communication is effective and professional.

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