How to Start a Letter: Professional Tips and Examples

Updated 6 January 2023

Starting a letter professionally can help you make a good first impression on your recipient. Using a professional tone and a business layout shows you are a professional person who respects your recipient. As you may write letters to important people including prospective employers and business contacts, mastering how to start a letter matters. In this article, we discuss how to start a professional letter, with tips and examples that demonstrate accepted techniques.

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How to start a professional letter

The method below will help you start a professional letter that demonstrates your competence and written communication skills. You can apply this method to any professional letter, such as a cover letter and a letter of recommendation:

1. List your contact information

List your contact details in the top left corner of your letter. If you are applying for a job, these will be your personal contact details. If your letter is a letter of recommendation or a letter written on behalf of your company, use your business contact details. Include the following information, starting a new line for each bullet point:

  • Your full name

  • Your job title (for letters using business contact details)

  • Your phone number (mobile or landline)

  • Your email address

  • Your street address or P.O. Box number

  • Your city or suburb, state and postcode

You can list your phone number and email address after your postal address if you prefer. Including all relevant information matters more than the order it appears. Displaying this information prominently helps your recipient easily reply to your letter. If you are writing a letter on business letterhead, you may omit the postal address and phone number, if the number on the letterhead is the same as your work line.

2. Write the current date in full

Leave a single line space, then write the current date in full. Express the date as a number, followed by the full name of the month and the year, for example, '10 April 2021'. Including the date provides context, especially if you mention time periods such as ‘yesterday' or ‘last week' in your letter.

3. Add your recipient's contact information

Leave another single line space, then write your recipient's contact information. Include the following information, starting a new line for each bullet point:

  • Recipient's full name

  • Recipient's company

  • Recipient's street address or P.O. Box number

  • Recipient's city or suburb, state and postcode

Related: How To Address a Cover Letter (With Examples)

4. Use an appropriate salutation

Leave another single line space, then add a professional but warm salutation. In most cases you should start the letter with the word “Dear”, then your recipient's title and name, followed by a comma.

You should always use a person's professional title if they have one. Alternatively, you can use a gendered title, such as Mr or Mrs. Mrs is traditionally used for a married woman, although some women prefer the modern title Ms. Unmarried women are usually referred to as Ms, rather than the title Miss.

When writing to someone unfamiliar to you, include only their surname. If you are writing to someone you know, you may include their first name and surname, either with or without the title. If you have built a very close personal relationship with the recipient over many years, you may use only their first name. You could also substitute ‘Dear' with another greeting word such as ‘To'.

Using your recipient's name personalises the letter and creates a bond between you and the recipient. If you aren't sure what their name is, contact their company or do some online research to discover it. Make sure to confirm the spelling and preferred title if your company shares the name over the phone. If you are unable to find your recipient's name, you may use their job title or a generic salutation. Some appropriate salutations for professional letters include:

  • Dear Dr Stephen Williams,

  • Dear Prof Williams,

  • Dear Mr Stephen Williams,

  • Dear Mr Williams,

  • Dear Ms Williams,

  • Dear Stephen Williams,

  • Dear Stephanie, (for very close contacts)

  • To Mrs Stephanie William,

  • To the Hiring Manager,

  • To the Head of Marketing,

  • Dear Sir/Madam,

  • To whom it may concern,

Related: What is a Letter Salutation? (Definition and Examples)

5. State the purpose of your letter

Leave another single line space, then write the letters ‘Re', short for regarding, followed by a colon, and your purpose for writing the letter in a few words. For example, you might write ‘Re: Donation to end-of-year fundraising drive'. Think of this line in your letter like the subject line of an email. Stating your purpose for writing in this line helps your recipient understand your motivation and what you expect of them. They can then quickly decide to read on for more information.

Related: Sample Letter of Request and Reasons for Writing One

6. Expand on your reason for writing

Expand on your reason for writing your letter within the first paragraph. Maintain a positive tone and use direct, easily understood language. If your purpose for writing benefits your recipient, you may start expanding on your reason for writing in the first sentence. If you are writing to ask for a favour, such as asking for a donation, take a sentence to establish your rapport with the recipient before expanding your purpose. For example, you might write ‘I hope this letter finds you well' or something similar. This gentle approach makes it more likely you'll get a positive response.

This part of your letter should grab your reader's attention. People are often busy in the business world, but making your letter engaging should make sure your recipient allocates time to keep reading. One good way to do this is to emphasise why reading benefits your recipient.

Related: 7 Powerful Ways to Start a Cover Letter

Tips on how to start a letter

Keep the following tips in mind when starting your next professional letter:

  • Leave a usable margin: Leaving a 2.5 cm margin along the top, bottom, left and right of your page is common. You may like to adjust your margin to account for letterhead on your business stationery.

  • Make it neat and legible: Typing your letter, using a professional black font set for 10pt or 12pt, is one of the easiest ways to make it neat and legible. However, if you have clear handwriting, writing your letter by hand can give it a personal touch.

  • Be personal: Use your recipient's name, whenever possible, and write in the first person to create a connection between you and your recipient.

  • Be concise: Optimise your letter's purpose and use succinct language in your opening paragraph to make your writing effective.

  • Confirm spelling: Double-check the spelling of your recipient's name, place of business and address before sending your letter.

  • Proofread your letter opening: Look for any typographical errors or places you could improve your opening and edit as needed.

Related: How to Write an Email: Your Complete Guide

Examples of how to start a professional letter

Viewing examples of how others start their professional letters can help you write your own. Pay attention to the formatting of these examples and the tone they use:

Start of a professional letter using personal contact details

The following is an example of how a job applicant might start their cover letter for a job as a software developer:

Melissa Bryson
0418 239 450
56 Hunter Street
Redcliffe Qld 4020

14 January 2021

Jason Hart
Energize Software
349 Sunshine Avenue
Brisbane Qld 4000

Dear Mr Hart,

Re: Junior software developer job application

I recently graduated from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Engineering/Bachelor of Computer Science and would like to take the first steps in my IT career with Energize Software. I believe my university studies have given me the technical knowledge to succeed in the vacant software developer role advertised recently through Indeed. I feel my efficient coding skills and passion for the information technology industry would make me an asset to your team.

Related: How to End a Letter

Start of a professional letter using business contact details

The following is an example of how a marketing manager may start a letter inviting a media contact to attend a product launch:

Anthony Princeton
Head of Marketing
0402 298 340
45 King Street
Adelaide SA 5000

23 May 2021

Josephine Owens
Gluten-Free Families Magazine
450 Main Street
Glenelg SA 5045

Dear Ms Owens,

Re: Product launch invitation

I would like to invite you to the launch of our latest snack food, Fruity Fingers, scheduled for 30 July 2021 at Adelaide Park Lands. Fruity Fingers are a healthy snack food made with real fruit and a healthy blend of nuts. As they are gluten- and preservative-free, I believe they'd be of real interest to your readers. We'll have free samples available on the day and guest speakers introducing you to the product and its health benefits.

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