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Attention line / ‘for the attention of’ line

This line, which is traditionally placed between the recipient’s address and the opening greeting, is used when only the name of a department or organisation has previously been given for the recipient. The usual wording is For the attention of Mrs J King (underlined with no full stop) and an attention line should be used as an alternative to, not as well as, a recipient’s name or job title. The ‘attention’ line can also be placed immediately before the recipient’s department or organisation and in the fully blocked style is often typed in capital letters and not underlined.

Salutation / opening greeting

The form of salutation used should be related to the way the recipient’s name has been given in the address.

Dear Sir opens a letter written to a man whose name you do not know.

Dear Sirs is used to address a company. (In American English a letter to a company usually opens with Gentlemen.)

Dear Madam is used to address a woman, whether single or married, whose name you do not know.

Dear Sir or Madam (or Dear Sir/Madam) is used to address a person when you do not know their name or sex. Notice that Ms Kaasen in the letter above uses this form, i.e. she does not assume that the sales manager of Compuvision Ltd is a man.

When you know the name of the person you are writing to, but do not know them well, the salutation takes the form of Dear followed by a courtesy title and the person’s surname. Initials or first names are not used with courtesy titles, e.g. Dear Mr Smith, not Dear Mr J. Smith or Dear Mr John Smith. Business associates who you know well can be addressed using just their first name, e.g. Dear John.

A comma after the salutation is optional, i.e Dear Mr Smith, or Dear Mr Smith. (In American English a colon is usually used after the salutation, e.g. Dear Mr Smith:, Gentlemen:).

Body of thr letter

Sometimes it is difficult to think of suitable words with which to start the letter. In general, you should always refer to any previous correspondence in the first paragraph and also try to get to the point of the letter reasonably quickly.

If a letter is long and complicated it may be useful to number points or to use paragraph headings, indicating them with capitals or underlining, although this can make the letter look rather formal. It is always best to start a paragraph with a topic sentence, introducing the subject of the paragraph, as this will help your reader to follow your train of thought. However, if the letter has more than one main subject it may be worth considering sending two separate letters as this will make it easier for both your recipient and you to consign them to the appropriate person and/or files.

Try to make the final paragraph positive and state what you hope the recipient will do. Include a personal pronoun in final statements, for example, ‘I hope to hear from you soon rather than ‘Hoping to hear from you soon’.

Complimentary close / complimentary ending

This should match the opening greeting. ‘Yours sincerely’ or ‘Yours faithfully’ will be appropriate in nearly all cases; other closes may be used for letters to friends, or to persons of title.

If the letter begins Dear Sir, Dear Sirs, Dear Madam, or Dear Sir or Madam, the complimentary close should be Yours faithfully.

If the letter begins with a personal name, e.g. Dear Mr James, Dear Mrs Robinson, or Dear Ms Jasmin, it should be Yours sincerely

A letter to someone you know well may close with the more informal Best wishes. Note that Americans tend to close even formal letters with Yours truly or Truly yours, which is unusual in the UK in commercial correspondence.

Avoid closing with old-fashioned phrases e.g.

We remain yours faithfully, Respectfully yours.

A comma after the complimentary close is optional, i.e.

Yours faithfully, or Yours faithfully.

The complimentary close is usually placed on the left, aligned under the rest of the letter.

Table 1

TITLE

STATUS

COMPLIMENTARY CLOSE

Mr

married or unmarried male

Yours sincerely

Mrs

married female

Yours sincerely

Miss

unmarried female

Yours sincerely

Ms

married or unmarried female

Yours sincerely

Sir

male – name not known

Yours faithfully

Madam

female – name not known

Yours faithfully

Sir/Madam

when unsure whether you are addressing male or female

Yours faithfully

medical/academic/military

e.g. Dr/Professor/General

these titles do not change whether addressing a male or female

Yours sincerely

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