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Inside address / receiver’s address / recipient’s address

The INSIDE address is written below the sender’s address and on the left-hand side of the page.

If possible you should include the name of an individual recipient or, at least, a specific job title. This makes the letter someone’s particular responsibility and, hopefully, leads to a quicker reply. It may also be useful if you need to follow up the letter and want to know to whom you wrote in the past. However, as an alternative the name of the department and organisation, or just the organisation, may be given here. Sometimes a letter may say ‘All communications should be addressed to … ‘, and in this case you should obviously follow instructions.

There are conventions for addressing each.

Surname known

As a guide to use of first names and/or initials, follow the recipient’s preferred style as indicated by past correspondence. Always use a courtesy title, and copy the spelling of names carefully.

If you know the name of the person you are writing to, write it as the first line of the address. Include either the person’s initial/s or his or her first given name, e.g. Mr J.E. Smith or Mr John Smith, NOT Mr Smith.

courtesy titles used in addresses are as follows:

  • Mr (pronounced /’mista/) is the usual courtesy title for a man. The unabbreviated form Mister should not be used.

  • Mrs (pronounced /’misiz/, no unabbreviated form) is used for a married woman.

  • Miss (pronounced/’mis/, not an abbreviation) is used for an unmarried woman.

  • Ms (pronounced /miz/ or /mss/, no unabbreviated form) is used for both married and unmarried women. It is advisable to use this form of address when you are unsure whether the woman you are writing to is married or not, or do not know which title she prefers.

  • Messrs (pronounced /’mesaz/, abbreviation for French ‘Messieurs’, which is never used) is used occasionally for two or more men, e.g. Messrs P. Jones and B.L. Parker, but more commonly forms part of the name of a company, e.g. Messrs Collier, Clark & Co. It is rather old-fashioned.

Other courtesy titles include:

  • academic or medical titles, e.g. Doctor (Dr), Professor (Prof.), etc. Dr or Doctor can be used for a man or woman and is used for persons holding a doctoral degree as well as medical doctors. Most consultant surgeons traditionally prefer the title Mr. Some medical doctors prefer the letters MD after their name: do not use both Dr and MD;

  • military titles, e.g. Captain (Capt.), Major (Maj.), Colonel (Col.), General (Gen.);

  • aristocratic titles, e.g. Sir, Dame, Lord, Lady. Sir means that the addressee is a knight, and is always followed by a first name (not initial) and surname, e.g. Sir John Brown, never Sir J. Brown or Sir Brown. It should not be confused with the salutation Dear Sir;

  • clerical titles, e.g. The Reverend (The Rev.), Father (Fr.), Sister (Sr.).Protestant or Anglican clergy should be addressed as The Rev J (or John) Smith, not Rev Smith; Catholic clergy as Fr John Smith; nuns as Sr Mary, with any job description added afterwards, such as Sr Julia, Mother Superior.

Esq., abbreviation for Esquire, which indicated the status of ‘gentleman’ in the past, is seldom used now. It can only be used instead of Mr, and is placed after the name. Do not use Esq. and Mr at the same time, e.g. Bruce Hill Esq, NOT Mr Bruce Hill Esq.

NOTE that Esq can only be used if you know the first name or initial, so Mr is generally the best courtesy title to use for most male correspondents.

If a woman has indicated her preferred courtesy title on previous correspondence, you should use this.

All these courtesy titles, except Esq., are also used in salutations.

NOTE that a full stop is often used at the end of the abbreviation if it takes the form of the first few letters of the word, e.g. Prof. (Professor), but is not necessary if it takes the form of the first and last letter of the word, e.g. Dr (Doctor). However, some people prefer to write, e.g. Mr., Mrs., with a full stop. Again, whatever you choose to do, you should be consistent throughout your correspondence.

Sometimes letters denoting honours, qualifications or professions may be used after the name. Indeed, some people insist on it and they will indicate so by always using them on their own outgoing correspondence. There are accepted rules for the order in which these are given. If a person has a number of ‘letters’ it is usual to use only one or two of the most high-ranking ones, and university degrees or professional qualifications ate not usually included unless they are particularly relevant. For example, you may add ARIBA to an architect’s name when writing to him in his professional capacity, but you would be unlikely to add BSc to your landlord’s name just because you knew he had a degree.

If there is likely to be any confusion between a father and son who have the same first and surnames then it is possible to add Snr (senior) after the older man’s name or Jnr (junior) after the younger man’s name. It is a common practice in the USA but elsewhere some men may baulk at such a designation. In France it is common to use M. (monsieur) Andre Rouge, Pere (father) or M. Andre Rouge, Fils (son). Another solution is to use the man’s job title to show which man is to receive the letter, for example, John Smith, Chairman or John Smith, Managing Director.

In certain situations you may be unsure of the sex or status of a correspondent, particularly if you are corresponding for the first time with someone that you have not spoken to and who has not indicated these details in their correspondence. This is especially so with foreign names or names that can be used for either male or female, for example Lesley or Sam. If you cannot ask someone who knows the individual personally, then simply address them by their full name, without a courtesy title. It is quite permissible to address correspondence to, say, ‘Mabusak Randwhala’ or ‘Lesley Smith’; this is less likely to cause offence than an incorrect assumption of male or female, or of incorrect marital status. If this seems too informal, use the salutation ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ to balance it.

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