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You’re drafting a letter (or more likely an email nowadays) and you’re not sure how to start … or how to finish for that matter.

You can’t remember if you should be ‘faithful’ or ‘sincere’ at the end.

When writing a letter in English you only need to ask one question:

Do I know the person’s name?

Only two replies, right? Simple. Let’s take a look at what you need to write according to your yes or no answer.

YES – I know the person’s name


If you have their name you should always use it and then sign off ‘Yours sincerely’.

Dear Mr Brown, ————— Yours sincerely.


NO – I don’t know this person’s name


If you don’t have their name you write Dear Sir, or Dear Sirs, or Dear Sir or Madam and you sign off ‘Yours faithfully’.

Dear Sir or Madam, ————– Yours faithfully.


In English it’s that simple: just one question and the answer dictates the salutation and sign-off.

Find the name of the person
My advice is to avoid using the Dear Sir formula when writing business email letters – do some research and find out who you should be addressing the email or letter to. None of us like to receive a letter addressed to Dear Sir or Madam; we don’t feel engaged and we don’t feel in the least bit guilty deleting it without a reply!

If you are applying for a job try to avoid using Dear Sir or Madam; make the effort to find out who is handling the application process. If you can’t find the information online, ring the firm and ask for the name of the person and their email address.

But what if you’re writing to a group of people, a person with a title, a person with a double-barrel name … then what?

English Trackers Email Etiquette Tips


Download our free Email Etiquette Tips to get clear instructions on how to write to a group of people, how to address an email to people with titles, how to end a letter and much more.

Photo credit: Penn Provenance Project via photopin cc

Give me more!

Another post on this theme is our Warning! Writing emails when angry can damage your career!

Does your job sometimes involve writing a report? Check our How to Write a Report post

Insufferable suffixes! 
In recent years, it seems to have become fashionable to add the suffix ‘-isation’ to popular topics to create buzz words!