Gender Neutrality and Titles
While the sender’s and recipient’s addresses are fairly easy to correctly place onto the letter, the salutation is a sticking point. How should the writer speak to the recipient? Options include:
- Ms., Mrs. or Madam
- Mr. or Sir
As a general rule of thumb, address a female recipient as ‘Madam’ unless her marital status is known to the writer. In the recipient’s address portion, note her as ‘Ms.’ (unless the writer knows her to be a 'Mrs.') Follow this title with the full last name of the recipient.
Yet what happens if the business letter recipient holds a title? In this case, the title must be included in the address. Suggestions include:
- Dr. or Prof.
- Dir. or Hon.
A workaround to the use of a title instead of a formal address is the use of the title after the name.
Avoid the use of a first name -- unless the recipient and the letter writer have a close business relationship, know one another socially and have had meals together or engaged in other social occasions where the use of the first name has become commonplace. If this is not the case, it is considered a serious social faux pas to address a business person by the first name.
The gender neutral approach allows for the address of a person whose gender is not known or is unknowable. For example, when addressing the head of customer service and it is not possible to get a name, it is acceptable to address the letter “To Whom It May Concern." If the recipient’s name is gender neutral (i.e. a ‘Pat,’ ‘Chris,’ or ‘C.J.’) it is best to use the full name in the salutation (unless a title is known), such as ‘Dear Pat Cee.’