Grammar 8 min read

To Whom It May Concern: How and When to use This Salutation Properly

To Whom It May Concern is a traditional salutation found in formal or professional correspondence. It’s typically used when the writer doesn’t know the recipient’s name.

Although modern letter writers consider this old-fashioned greeting obsolete—and a little stuffy—you can still use it on some occasions.

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This article shows you how and when to start your letter with this one-size-fits-all phrase. Plus, explore effective alternatives to choose to fit your voice.

Main Takeaways:

  • All the initial letters of this greeting should be capitalized.
  • To Whom It May Concern may also be written as To Whom This May Concern.
  • Alternatives include Dear, Hello, and Greetings.
  • The salutation of a letter gives writers a chance to set the tone of your correspondence.
  • Most modern letter writers prefer person- or department-specific salutations over generic openers.
  • There are pros and cons to using a generic greeting. It can minimize the risk of misspelling a name or incorrectly identifying gender. On the other hand, it can sound impersonal and imply laziness or a lack of care.
  • It’s acceptable to use this standard greeting in letters of reference, initial contact emails, and when prospecting.
To Whom It May Concern is a salutation commonly used in formal or business correspondence.
“To Whom It May Concern” is a salutation commonly used in formal or business correspondence.

If you’ve mailed a resume or penned a letter of reference, you’ve probably written To Whom It May Concern.

With this common salutation becoming obsolete, many letter writers wonder if there are still times when it’s appropriate and effective to use.

The Importance of a Salutation

When you correspond with a person or company, it’s generally for a purpose. Letters offer a chance to connect with potential clients, employers, or employees, and can serve to notify recipients of wants, needs, or demands. They may also be a way to reach out with questions of varying levels of importance. That’s why it’s vital to get it right when you’re writing a letter.

A salutation is a crucial part of any correspondence. With a single phrase, the writer can set the tone for the letter. It’s a chance to create that all-important first impression.

The salutation can let the reader know whether the letter will be formal or informal, friendly, or professional. It can create a sense of familiarity or show that the recipient is unknown to the sender.

Using someone’s name may also be an effective way to grab your recipient’s attention, making sure what’s said next gets read.

Should I use To Whom It May Concern?

It all comes down to style and context. Benefits to using To Whom It May Concern are include help avoid addressing the wrong person, misspelling a name, or using the incorrect gender. Another benefit is that this salutation can save you time. If you’re sending the same letter to multiple people, you’ll save time researching names and changing the greeting. On the downside, it’s less personal and can seem old-fashioned. Or worse, it could come off lazy because a quick Internet search or phone call could give you the information you need to create a more personal and unique impression.

It can be difficult to start a letter if you don’t know who the recipient is. This may happen when writing business letters to a company, cover letters for resumes, and recommendations.

You may use the salutation
You may use the salutation “To Whom It May Concern” when you don’t know the name or identity of the person you’re writing to.
To Whom It May Concern may seem like an ideal greeting, but there are downsides to writing a one-size-fits-all salutation. Here are several pros and cons of using To Whom It May Concern.

Pros:

  • You won’t risk addressing the wrong person, misspelling a name, or incorrectly guessing a gender.
  • If you’re sending copies to multiple people, you don’t have to change the greeting.
  • Using To Whom It May Concern can save you time researching names.

Cons:

Ultimately, detractors of To Whom It May Concern argue that we live in an age of information, which has rendered this generic greeting obsolete. It’s now possible to find the names of contacts for most companies through websites and social media accounts. Plus, what an internet search can’t accomplish, a quick phone call easily can.

The good news is that there are plenty of alternatives for this go-to salutation.

Alternatives for To Whom It May Concern

So, you don’t want to start your letter with To Whom It May Concern. You may also have tossed out the classic Dear Sirs since your correspondence could easily end up on the desk of a female employee. Perhaps you’ve considered opting for Dear Sir or Madam, but are afraid of sounding as if you’re writing from a bygone era.

Don’t worry! There are viable modern alternatives.

There are other alternatives to the salutation
There are other alternatives to the salutation “To Whom It May Concern.”

Dear vs. To Whom It May Concern

Dear is also a classic salutation, but it has successfully survived into modern letter-writing use thanks to its simplicity and versatility. To properly punctuate this greeting, use Dear + Name, followed by a comma. There are several ways you can use this traditional greeting in correspondence.

Dear [Name]

For informal correspondence, use a first name or even a nickname. For formal correspondence such as business letters, use the person’s title and surname. Titles, otherwise known as honorifics, may include Dr., Professor, Mrs., Mr., Ms., Miss, and the gender-neutral Mx. If your letters are aiming high, your greeting may also include royal titles such as Lord and Lady.

(first name): Dear Eleanor,
Note: Using the first name can add a comfortable, familiar touch to the letter and ensure that the recipient reads your words.
(nickname): Dear Ladybug,
Note: Nicknames should only be used when writing letters to someone with whom you’re well-acquainted.
(title): Dear Mx. Jones,

All of these options imply knowledge of the recipient’s name, but remember, there are plenty of ways to find your addressee on the internet. Search the company’s website for contact or visit their LinkedIn page.

Social media is another excellent tool for finding corporate information. Don’t hesitate to reach out via a chat box or direct message to ask a representative who you should be writing to. If all else fails, a phone call should do the trick.

Dear [Role], [Team], or [Department]

When writing professional letters or corresponding with companies, it’s acceptable to address a letter to a department or the representative of a position.

By using a specific role, you can make sure your letter reaches the intended recipient.

Dear Regional Apparel Buyer,

Addressing a letter to a team is another effective way of personalizing a letter without using a specific person’s name.

Dear Customer Care Team,

When addressing a letter to a specific department, you increase the likelihood of it reaching someone in the know.

Dear Hiring Department,

This is especially useful when you just can’t find the name of a person or if you know the company is in transition.

Hello or Greetings

These casual salutations can be useful when writing informal correspondence, such as emails, memos, or direct messages on social media. They can be used alone or in conjunction with a name, job title, or department.

(name): Hello Isabelle,
(role): Greetings Editorial Department,

Typically, a comma should be used after the name or point of contact. Some writers may opt for a colon or even a period or exclamation point to create additional emphasis. For relevant rules, always consult the particular style guide you’re following.

Make sure to capitalize the first letter of each word in the salutation
Make sure to capitalize the first letter of each word in the salutation “To Whom It May Concern.”

When It’s Okay to Use To Whom It May Concern:

Despite its detractors, To Whom It May Concern can still be useful at times. You can use this generic greeting effectively in the following circumstances:

  • Letters of reference or introduction
  • Initial contact forms or emails
  • Prospecting letters
  • Any correspondence where multiple recipients will receive the same letter

What is the Correct way to Write To Whom It May Concern?

On occasions when you do choose to use this catch-all opener, apply these rules of grammar and capitalization:

  1. Capitalize the first letter of every word.
  2. Punctuate it with a colon or a comma following Concern. If you’re working with a particular style guide, be sure to consult it for specific rules.
  3. Insert a double-space line after the salutation and before starting the body of your letter.

To Whom It May Concern: I’m Writing You a Sample Letter

To Whom It May Concern:

I recently purchased a pet harness from your company’s website, and the strangest thing happened. It arrived damaged, but the damage didn’t appear to be from a shipping problem. Rather, it seemed to be chewed up. I am hoping you can help me with this, either through a replacement or a refund. I’d also love to understand how this happened!

Best Regards,

A Disappointed Dog Owner

Sincerely Yours: Closing the Letter on To Whom It May Concern

Writing a greeting for your letter may seem like a no-brainer, but your salutation can set the whole tone for your correspondence. So, choose your words well, and start your letter off on the right foot.

Read More: Blond vs. Blonde: Untangle the Difference

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Krista Grace Morris

Krista heads up Marketing and Content Creation here at INK. From Linguistics and History to puns and memes, she's interested in the systems we create to share our ideas with each other.

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