While the use of the phrase “to whom it may concern” was once a popular introductory greeting for a business letter or formal correspondence, it is considered by many to be outdated in today’s workplace. Current trends in communication recommend addressing a letter or email with a person’s name; a practice made easier these days with the help of the Internet and online address books. Decades ago, when applying for jobs out of college, I often addressed cover letters using this phrase; however, recent technological developments allow us to have instant access to those in the position to hire new employees.
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To Capitalize or Not to Capitalize
If you must use the phrase “to whom it may concern” when crafting cover letters or other important correspondence, I recommend capitalizing the entire phrase. Consider you’re replacing a person’s name with this salutation and that each word is important. You’d capitalize the first and last name of the person you’re writing, wouldn’t you? “To Whom It May Concern” looks professional, albeit an outdated greeting.
Others argue that the phrase needn’t be completely capitalized, but instead only at the beginning as in, “To whom it may concern.” Proponents of this method argue that the phrase acts as a beginning sentence and thus, only needs capitalization in the opening word. Since the words in an entire sentence don’t require capitalization, neither do the words following “To” in this greeting. For those who are looking to improve their business writing skills, check out Elaine Wilkes and Daniel Hall’s course Write Emails That Get Results, and learn more about the ins and outs of crafting effective and professional emails.
Formal Alternative Greetings
What other forms of greeting can be used while writing a formal email or letter since “To whom it may concern” is generally considered outdated? For cover letters and for those seeking professional employment, I recommend seeking out the recipient and addressing your email directly to him or her. Since most job applications are completed online, using a person’s name isn’t always necessary (and often an email in this case is sent directly to a company’s HR department anyway) however, if you choose to send your cover letter along via snail mail in traditional fashion, here are a few salutations to use that can replace, “To whom it may concern.”
While “Dear Sir,” and “Dear Madam,” also sound slightly antiquated, not to mention sexist, they can be easily replaced with one of the above salutations too. Notice that with these alternatives it is important to capitalize the first word as well as the person’s proper name.
When you’re writing emails or letters to friends use a less formal greeting and feel free to incorporate an exclamation point to add feeling or a sense of excitement at the beginning of the correspondence. The following are a few examples of appropriate greetings for emails to friends and family:
Hey (I think when used within the wrong context this can seem flippant or rude, therefore use this one sparingly.)
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To Whom It May Concern
While the phrase “To whom it may concern,” connotes a bygone era of letter writing, it can be written in two different ways. As long as you’re careful about when you use it, and are mindful of your attention to detail throughout your professional letter or email, the phrase can come across as formal and respectful. The phrase may even make you stand out when compared to other, less formal candidates. Writing emails and letters is in many professions, a daily occurrence that requires attention to detail and a strong command of the English language. If you’re searching for information on how to improve your business writing skills, check out Webucator Training’s Business Writing course. Remember that no matter how you decide to begin your correspondence, consider first who it’s going to and how you’d like to address him or her. And remember that there are multiple ways to capitalize “To whom it may concern.”