Career Development

How to Start a Letter, With Tips and Examples

April 2, 2021

Learning how to start and write a professional letter is an essential skill to communicating effectively. The beginning of a letter sets the tone for the rest of its contents, can intrigue the recipient and make them feel respected. A strong beginning makes a good first impression, which is especially important when writing a business letter or cover letter.

How to start a professional letter

To make the best first impression, remain clear and concise in offering the necessary information. When starting a professional letter, use the following steps as a guide.

1. List your complete contact information

Unless using a preprinted letterhead, begin by including your complete contact information on the top right or top left side of the document. Depending on the type of letter, include either your personal mailing address or company address. Above the address, include your full name. Beneath the address, be sure to include your phone number and email address. For example, you might write the following if using your personal mailing address:

Jennifer Jones
12345 65 Street SW
Toronto, ON M1N 2P3
(555) 555-5555

2. Include the date

After writing your mailing address and other pertinent contact information, you should include the date the letter is being written. Skip a line after your contact information and insert the date here. You should use the full date, for example, "June 1, 2020."

3. Add the recipient's contact information

After the date, skip a line and include the recipient's full name and title along with their full address. Put this information on the left side of the letter and start a new line for each new piece of contact information. For example, you would write the following:

Dr. Steven Smith
ABC Company
90876 54 Avenue
Mississauga, ON M7L 8K6

4. Begin with the most appropriate greeting

Using the professional greeting of "Dear" followed by the recipient's name or title is appropriate in almost every case. In cases where you have an established relationship, "Hello," or "Greetings" can also be used, followed by the recipient's name. If a greeting seems inappropriate for the situation, you can start the letter with just the recipient's title and name.

5. Use the most professional form of the recipient's name

When addressing someone in a business letter, you want to use the most formal form of their name. This includes both their title and last name. You may also include their first name, if appropriate. For example, you may write "Dear Dr. Julie Chan" or "Greetings Mr. Smith."

When you have an established relationship with the recipient, it is appropriate to use just their first name. For example, you may begin with "Hello Bob," or "Dear Marta." When in doubt, use the proper form of their name, as described above.

6. Start the letter with an agreeable tone

Regardless of why you are writing the letter, you can begin with a short, agreeable statement. This helps the recipient start reading your letter on a positive note and they'll be more open to what you have to say. An example of how to begin with a friendly tone might be, "I hope this letter finds you well."

7. Introduce the purpose of the letter

Once you have included your pleasantry, introduce your letter's purpose using one or two well-worded sentences. Be clear and concise about the letter's intent and provide an overview of what is to follow. This ensures you respect your recipient's time and that your letter is direct and well organized. For example, you might write, "I am writing to invite you to our company conference in June." If you're applying for a job, you might write, "I am writing to apply for your open Administrative Assistant position."

Tips for professionally starting a letter

Here are several tips to ensure you start your letter with professionalism and the most impact:

Always double-check the spelling of the recipient's name.

Incorrectly spelling someone's name can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect or a lack of attention to detail. Take some extra time before saving your final copy to ensure the name is spelled correctly. If you are unsure, do some research to find the information you need. You can reach out to another contact, check for previous correspondence from the individual, or even call the company and ask reception for the correct spelling of a person's name.

Whenever possible, avoid using outdated greetings

"To Whom It May Concern," and "Dear Sir or Madam," are old-fashioned salutations and do not leave a good first impression. If you cannot determine a proper title and name, address the recipient in the most accurate way possible. For example, if applying for a job position and you cannot determine the appropriate contact name, you might write "Dear Hiring Manager."

Avoid using a designated title if the gender of the recipient is unknown

You may have the full name of your contact in some cases but are unsure as to the appropriate pronouns. For example, a name such as "Ryan" or "Erin" could be any gender. In this situation, it is reasonable to exclude the title of "Mr." or "Miss" and address them by their first and last name. For example, you might write "Dear Ryan Bolster."

Use personal pronouns

When starting your letter, be sure to use personal pronouns in your writing. This helps to create a warm and friendly tone within your correspondence. Use the word "I" when speaking about yourself and "you" when referring to the recipient. If you are writing on behalf of a business, it is appropriate to use the word "we" instead of "I" to show that your letter has the company's support.

Use simple formatting

When writing a business letter, be sure to start with simple, professional formatting. Choose easy-to-read black fonts, such as Arial, Cambria, or Georgia, in sizes 10, 11, or 12. Stick to standard sentence case instead of writing with caps lock, as this can be interpreted as yelling at the reader. Also, minimize the use of italics or bolding information within your letter unless you need to highlight something important. This ensures the letter is clean and easily readable for the recipient.

Proofread your writing

As with all professional correspondence, you must proofread everything you write. This includes name, address, and contact information in addition to the content of the letter. Check for proper spelling, grammar and punctuation to ensure your letter is well presented.

Examples of how to start a professional letter

Use the following examples of ways to start common professional letters as templates for your business correspondence:

Example of adequately formatted complete contact information, date and recipient information

Jennifer Jones
12345 65 Street SW
Toronto, ON M1N 2P3
(555) 555-5555

June 1, 2020

Dr. Steven Smith
ABC Company
90876 54 Avenue
Mississauga, ON M7L 8K6

Example of a business letter following up after contact

"Dear Dr. Steven Smith,
It was a pleasure meeting you last week to discuss the goals of your marketing plan. I am writing to follow up in regards to the questions you had about..."

Example of a business letter as the first contact

"Dear Mrs. Baker,
I hope this letter finds you well. I am Christine Brown, the operations director at ABC Company. I am writing to inquire about the cost of your printing services..."

Example of a business letter making a request of a personal acquaintance

"Hello, Bradley,
It was great seeing you last week. I am writing today to ask if you can send over the information about the company you use for..."

Example of a business letter applying for a job position

"Dear Hiring Manager,
My name is Rebecca White, and I am writing you to apply for the graphic designer position I saw posted recently on the Indeed job board."

Example of a business letter following up on an interview

"Hello, Mrs. Whitehorn,
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me yesterday. I enjoyed speaking with you about the open computer programmer position. Please let me know what additional information you need from me."

Example of a business letter resigning from a position

"Dear Mr. White,
Please accept this letter as notice of my resignation from my position with ABC Company, effective March 25."


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