Writing Trends: Salutations

writingtrends-salutationsJust like fashion, writing and grammar have their own trends. Various rules come and go and we want to keep you informed of these changes so we are always submitting the best RFI responses possible. The next trend we’re going to tackle: Salutations.

The next two posts in the Writing Trends series are going to cover writing correspondence, especially the more formal cover letter, which we ask you to include in an RFI submission.

Now I did say “formal” when referring to the cover letter – and it is a formal form of correspondence – but it’s important to note that today’s formal letter writing has changed from the way most of us were trained to write in grade school. In a word, formal letter writing is now quite informal and this shift is going to be evident as we discuss salutations. But, please note, informal does not mean unprofessional.

Let’s Dig into Salutations

Most of us learned to always start a salutation with “Dear” and then use a prefix (Mr. / Mrs. / Ms.) with the recipient’s last name (Dear Mr. Anderson). When we didn’t know who we were corresponding with, we were taught to use phrases like “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern.” These are now considered out-dated approaches.

Prefixes – There are two leading reasons we have shifted away from using prefixes in our correspondence. First of all, there is an increased chance for offense in using the wrong prefix because you either don’t know the recipient’s gender (gender neutral names are on the rise) or you don’t know a woman’s marital status. Second, we are a more casual society, and have, in a lot of ways, shrugged off the convention of formality. It’s not unusual for a person, if addressed formally, to say “Oh, call me John” with an explanation that Mr. Doe was the name of his dad.  So, all-around, prefixes are an outdated practice.

Trend Fix – Instead of using prefixes with a persons last name, keep it informal and eliminate any chance for offense by using the recipient’s first name. That’s it. Easy-peasy.

Using “Dear” – In our personal lives “Dear” is a term typically reserved for use within close-knit or intimate relationships. It’s a term of endearment and implies a certain amount of familiarity with the person it references. Therefore, it is kind of odd to use it in professional correspondence.

Trend Fix – Don’t use “Dear.” In fact, don’t use any kind of greeting. It’s unnecessary.

Non-Specific Salutations: The use of “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern” says a couple things about the author:

  1. They don’t know anything about the letter’s recipient.
  2. They couldn’t be bothered to do a quick bit of googling to find out who they should address the letter to.

When I receive a letter addressed to “Dear Sir or Madam” at home, it immediately goes into the trash because I don’t want to be bothered by someone who doesn’t know what to call me. It’s a bit different story at work. I do read it, but it doesn’t take a high priority. Let’s face it, we’re all busy people and are inundated by information. So we weed through things as quickly as possible and prioritize by what engages us. “To Whom it May Concern” is not engaging.

Trend Fix – If you do not have the name of a person for your letter, insert a subject line much like we use in email. So, using an RFI cover letter as an example, in the line where the salutation would go, instead write “Subject: Project Bumble Bee RFI Response” and then continue with your letter on the next line.

There you have it! Salutations in 2015. Questions? Thoughts? Comment below!

Please note, that when you do submit an RFI response with a cover letter, we want you to address it to the lead rep on the project. So in this instance, you would not use a subject line.

Other “Writing Trends” Topics:



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