Dear Sirs?
March 3, 2008 11:59 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to address a formal email to a generic alias (e.g., or

I know that "To whom it may concern" is bad, and "Hello" seems a little too informal/flippant. Should I skip it altogether and just jump into my content? Or should I write something like "Dear XYZ Foundation review committee," even though it will likely be read by only one person?
posted by hihowareyou to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
"Dear Sir or Madam:" would be my choice
posted by indiebass at 12:01 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I usually use "Greetings."
posted by winston at 12:08 PM on March 3, 2008

"Hello" seems flippant? I use "Hello," in instances like this all the time and I don't believe it's backfired.
posted by bryanjbusch at 12:15 PM on March 3, 2008

Sorry, I'm with design8r. I use "Hello" when not addressing an individual.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:24 PM on March 3, 2008

Interesting thoughts on "Hello," I'll probably stick with that. It was my first instinct, but then looked a little weird to me when I actually typed it up. Thanks for the help thus far everyone, keep the suggestions coming please.
posted by hihowareyou at 12:26 PM on March 3, 2008

I always use "to whom it may concern"
posted by jannw at 12:29 PM on March 3, 2008

I use "Ladies and Gentlemen."
posted by ottereroticist at 12:35 PM on March 3, 2008

Yeah, don't overthink it. Plenty of things that would be strange in a social context ("To Whom it May Concern," "Dear Sir or Madam") are totally normal in a business context. I think "Hello" is fine too.
posted by robinpME at 12:45 PM on March 3, 2008

I was always taught that "To Whom it May Concern" is rude, and that I should always use "Sir or Madam"
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:55 PM on March 3, 2008

I like "Greetings" too, although I've been told it sounds a bit like an alien visitor speaking.
posted by zadcat at 1:49 PM on March 3, 2008

The way I was taught at school (for letters - but the same logic applies) was "Dear Sir / Madam," and sign off "Yours faithfully,". Certainly in the UK no-one would fault you for doing the same.
posted by prentiz at 2:05 PM on March 3, 2008

I'm not sure if this suits your situation, but all of my cover letters begin with a universally pleasant "Good morning."
posted by almostmanda at 2:11 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had to write an email to a generic address when I applied for my current job. I started it 'Dear HR team'.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:13 PM on March 3, 2008

I was actually in a meeting last week where the assembled were laughing heartily at a correspondent who used "greetings". It always sounded jarring to me, but that definitely proved to me it shouldn't be used, at least where I live.
posted by jamesonandwater at 2:22 PM on March 3, 2008

nthing Dear Sir or Madam. You can't go wrong with that one.
posted by reenum at 2:32 PM on March 3, 2008

I like greetings for it's genial mock-formality, but it may resonate poorly with Vietnam-era vets whose draft notices began with that now-unwelcome salutation. "Hello" is a direct, friendly and business-appropriate greeting that works well in these situations.
posted by cairnish at 2:35 PM on March 3, 2008

Its. <sob>
posted by cairnish at 2:37 PM on March 3, 2008

Is this important? Get a name, get a name, get a name. Call the receptionist and ask who works on said project. Use Google-fu. Get a name. You will stand out from the pack as someone who did their homework. It has made the difference for me more than once.
posted by raconteur at 2:39 PM on March 3, 2008

Thanks all, but especially almostmanda - I really like the personal-sounding pleasantry of "good morning," now I just need to wait until tomorrow morning to send my email :-)

"Greetings" sounds nice, but I always expect "earthlings" to follow it, so that doesn't work for me.

raconteur - Good advice in general, but in this case it is required to use the alias. It is not uncommon for organizations to make such demands in order to help keep things organized, and I believe its best to follow instructions/play by the rules.
posted by hihowareyou at 3:59 PM on March 3, 2008

Argh. It's. I believe it's best to follow instructions.

I guess I should focus more on my grammar than on my salutation.

posted by hihowareyou at 4:02 PM on March 3, 2008

I agree wholeheartedly with raconteur. If that's not possible (say, when the receptionist refuses to give that information out, which is policy in my office, for example), a "Dear Sir or Madam" is standard.

"Good morning/afternoon", "Dear XYZ team" or "Hello" are perfectly acceptable as well, and somewhat more laid back. However, I would not use those if it's a very conservative organization, like a bank. I was also taught that "To whom it may concern" is a bit rude.

NEVER use "Dear Sirs". It makes you sound sexist and old fashioned, and yet I see it all the time in formal letters. [But most of you already knew not to do that, I hope.]
posted by gemmy at 4:08 PM on March 3, 2008

I used to use "To Whom It May Concern" or "Greetings" or "Dear Sir of Madam" when I was writing formal business letters to an unspecified person. That was some time before the age of email. I tend to think that email, by it's very nature, is more informal. To me, the formalities used in letters just don't seem appropriate. So, for this sort of thing, I go with "Hello".

When I see "Ladies and Gentlemen" in this context, I always mentally add, "...and children of all ages!" :-)
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:59 PM on March 3, 2008

I'm in the "Dear Sir/Madam" group.
posted by arcticseal at 6:59 PM on March 3, 2008

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