The salutation is an important part of a letter. The choice of the right salutation depends on whether you know the person you are writing to and how formal your relationship is.
Very formal (for official business letters)
To Whom It May Concern:
Use only when you do not know to whom you must address the letter, for example, when writing to an institution.
Use when writing to a position without having a named contact.
Dear Mr Smith,
Use when you have a named male contact.
Dear Ms Smith,
Use when you have a named female contact; do not use the old-fashioned Mrs.
Dear Dr Smith,
Use when writing to a named doctor.
Dear Prof Smith,
Use when writing to a named professor.
Dear Xu Li,
Type the whole name when you are unsure of the recipient’s gender.
Less formal but still professional (business letters)
Use when writing to a group of people.
Use when writing to a named female.
Use when writing to a named male.
Informal (personal letters)
These salutations should be used with people you are close to, as they might offend others.
Use when writing to a group of people you know very well.
Use when writing to one or more people you know very well.
There should be a comma after the salutation and a colon after “To Whom It May Concern”.
No full stop is needed after Mr, Ms, and Dr.
The form Mrs is outdated.
Avoid the exclamation (!) in salutations.
STARTING YOUR LETTER
There two ways in which business letters usually start: they make reference to a previous contact, for example, phone conversation, meeting, previous mail correspondence; or they are the first contact with the recipient.
Making reference to previous contact
I am (we are writing) regarding
your inquiry about …
our phone conversation …
In reply to your request …
Thank you for contacting us.
Contacting the recipient for the first time
I am (we are) writing to
inform you that …
enquire about …
complain about …
I am contacting you for the following reason.
I recently heard about … and would like to …
MAKING A REQUEST
We would appreciate it if you would …
I would be grateful if you could …
Could you please send me …
Could you possibly tell us …
It would be helpful if you could send us …
GIVING GOOD NEWS
We are pleased to announce that … I am delighted to inform you that …
GIVING BAD NEWS
We regret to inform you that … I’m afraid it would not be possible to … Unfortunately we are unable to … After careful consideration we have decided …