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to address a woman in a formal letter as "Ms"?

(290 Posts)
twattock Thu 28-Feb-13 13:37:16

Here's the problem; as a solicitor the formal way to address correspondence is "Dear sirs/your faithfully" or "Dear (insert as appropriate)/yours sincerely". But I often have to write to a woman without knowing what title she has given herself-so do I use Ms? I dont want to assume anything obviously, so I can't use Miss or Mrs, so what would people prefer?

prettybird Mon 04-Mar-13 14:39:01

I like my awkward, cumberson, hard to spell name grin

I used to like the fact that, 'cos of the way I shorten my first name and I refused to put titles on to my letters/memos/telex (before the days of email blush) in my first (and subsequent) jobs, people used to expect a German male and would get me! wink

My boss had an argument with a colleague on my behalf. he was sorting out business cards and wanted to make me put a title on "'cos otherwise people wouldn't know what sex I was" hmm. My boss pointed out that as business cards tend to get handed out in person and I was a slim, attractive graduate recruit , if they hadn't worked out what sex I was by then, they had bigger problems! grin

AnnieLobeseder Mon 04-Mar-13 14:40:18

Well obviously not, seeker. My dad, brother and step-mum (though of course she's not a man) all have the same bizarre surname. Traditionally, it was just not possible for men to get rid of them on marriage. Now, thanks to feminism, they can! Hurrah!

AnnieLobeseder Mon 04-Mar-13 14:41:08

And my married name, for all of its 4 letters, still seems difficult for some people to grasp. I'm amazed every time.

twattock Mon 04-Mar-13 18:49:24

the first "dear sirs and mesdames" letters went out tonight. it will be interesting to see if anyone a) notices b) comments. I shall let you all know!

thesecretmusicteacher Mon 04-Mar-13 19:30:16

you're going to hate me for this but somehow it seems wrong...


"Sirs, Mesdames", seems better or "Dear Sirs, Mesdames"

like "Ladies and Gentlemen" is good but "Dear Ladies and Gentlemen" isn't

(solicitor here)

It's the "dear" followed by "and" that seems wrong somehow.

edam Mon 04-Mar-13 20:06:04

Hey twattock, I'll be very interested in the results of your experiment. grin

SconeRhymesWithGone Mon 04-Mar-13 22:27:58

Me, too, twattock. You started a great thread here. Keep us posted.

poorchurchmouse Tue 05-Mar-13 09:06:01

Indeed, keep us posted.

Another thought that I don't think anyone has mentioned on this thread, which could be more widely adopted and sidesteps the whole "how to start a letter" problem. I drafted a letter for an MP to send to a minister a few months ago, and the MP kindly copied me in on the final version. I'd started it "dear XXXX". MP just deleted the whole "dear" bit from the top before sending it. I've seen that done a few times in a government/Civil Service context. It's obvious who the letter is addressed to, because the name and address are at the top, and it gets round the whole question of how formal/familiar to be.

JessieMcJessie Wed 06-Mar-13 06:54:42

I frequently start emails without the "Dear" but I do keep the person's first name, so


Thank you for your email....."

I haven't really thought through why we still use "Dear" on a formal letter, as more and more we use email for very formal advice to our clients, it's not just for things like agreeing a meeting time.

However "Dear Sirs" is just the convention for inter-partes correspondence.

"Sirs" reminds me of that covention for "Letters to the Editor" in newspapers i.e.

I read with great interest the piece by Joe Bloggs on Tuesday relating to the use of misogynistic address forms in the legal sector..."

Twattock, great that you have started the use of "Mesdames" - perhaps one day it will appear in Wikipedia as a seminal moment in the history of inter law firm communication.

WhoKnowsWhereTheTimeGoes Wed 06-Mar-13 10:14:59

I don't like emails that just start with my first name, it seems a bit blunt in tone, especially if the sender than proceeds to ask you to do something, it definitely raises my hackles. I work in a fairly informal business and Hi WhoKnows is the standard email opening. I stick to Dear on more formal ones on the odd occasion that I need to write one.

JessieMcJessie Wed 06-Mar-13 11:59:35

Whoknows, I absolutely HATE "hi first name" on a work email, even if it's an internal email from the colleague in the next room. Far too informal. I had a trainee who did it and, horror of horrors, sometimes signed off with a smiley face. We nipped that in the bud. I'd get in real trouble if I addressed my clients with "Hi", even the ones I know very well.

WhoKnowsWhereTheTimeGoes Wed 06-Mar-13 12:39:17

I would never go as far as a smiley face, but Hi is definitely standard in my line of work, both as a client myself and as a supplier of services.

With the clients the first email is Dear, follow-ups are Hi. I take my lead from them to an extent though, if they make first contact with me using Hi then I will respond with it too. I would hate it if we all just started with Firstname, it really does sound abrupt to me. I guess it would be fine from a solicitor or someone you do have formal relationships with, but our client relationshiops are as informal as our internal ones.

scoobydooagain Wed 06-Mar-13 13:59:55

I don't like the use of a title and I especially disliked Mrs when I was married but I wouldn't complain, you can't please everybody all of the time!

neunundneunzigluftballons Wed 06-Mar-13 14:59:53

I only ever use Ms, as does my sister who although married has retained her maiden name. Mrs sounds like my mother or MIL.

AnnieLobeseder Wed 06-Mar-13 17:17:00

Yup, Hi Firstname is the standard greeting around here too. But we're an informal bunch.

I'd use "Dear Dr/Prof Bloggs" the first time I wrote to someone external, but if they wrote back "Hi Annie" and signed off "Regards, Jane", then my next message would start with "Hi Jane".

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