What is the most appropriate way to address a motivational letter for a graduate program? Multiple people will read the letter. How should I address it if I want to avoid the "To whom it may concern" phrase, and salute the female reader? Is it appropriate to write "Dear Madams, Sirs?"

P.S. Many of the salutation posts are marked as duplicates, or closed but I did not see this question answered.


For posterity, here is the bounty message I wrote to get more attention to this question: "As a parent and taxpayer, I would like to address a formal letter (starting with "Dear") to nine members of my local Board of Education. This is an elected body and has a mix of genders. I don't want to have to write out all nine names. I am hopeful my situation is subsumed in this question. I am starting the bounty because the existing answers did not receive spectacular votes, so I'm unsure whether @Sanctor's [answer][1] can be relied upon. (The other existing answer only addresses a special case.)"

This was originally contributed by @JOSH. I was going to award it the bounty but I couldn't, because he removed his answer. So I have reposted it here

To address the members of a Board:

Dear Board Members

is an appropriate form you can use.



Only one person at a time will read the letter. Dear Sir/Madam will address each person when it's their turn to read the letter.

  • Thank you, sir. Your answer is helpful; however, is it at least as appropriate to use "Dear Madam or Sir" instead? – superAnnoyingUser Feb 4 '14 at 8:45
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    Sure you can put madam in front. "Madams/Sirs" sounds like you are addressing a crowd in which they are all huddled over the letter reading it and that doesn't quite happen in real life :) – Sanctor Feb 4 '14 at 8:48
  • I disagree--for boards I have been on, if it was a physical letter, everyone received a copy. For student groups, etc., people are generally sent their own copy, or, more likely nowadays, the letter is distributed electronically, and many people can read simultaneously. – Katherine Lockwood Dec 12 '16 at 2:20
  • @KatherineLockwood - So what's your recommendation? How should I begin a letter to the Board of Education? It will be sent as an attachment to an email. – aparente001 Dec 13 '16 at 3:19

If they're all in a graduate program, Dear Student would seem obvious.

If the correspondence is to members of a body individually, perhaps asking each for his own opinion, then Dear Board Member would seem obvious, although that partly depends on what kind of membership of what kind of board. For members of the board of a company, Dear Director.

If the correspondence is to a body collectively, perhaps giving it your opinion, then Dear Members of Boardname might seem obvious; Dear Boardname would be better. Again, that partly depends on what kind of board. If it's a British limited company such as Bucks, Mega & Cashgrab then Dear Messrs Bucks, Mega & Cashgrab might be obvious.

Styles of address and salutations are very well covered in, for instance, Debrett's Correct Form and several big, church-bible sized variants of Webster’s Dictionary - but mine being stored in an attic since the WWW snuck up, I find the question too elusive for Google.

  • I'm in the U.S. and am curious, does "Messrs" work when Mega is a she? – aparente001 Dec 11 '16 at 18:37
  • "Messrs" is such an old-fashioned term that while it was new enough to care where it came from, the idea of women in business was far too radical to be acknowledged generally, let alone in formal writing. I’m guessing that generations back, “Messrs” was as common in US as until recently in British English but let’s remember it was always inappropriate anyway; “Messrs” is short for French “Messieurs”, not English “Misters” "Messrs" stops working with partnerships like Thelma & Louise… would anyone use "Messrs" Butch & Sundance or "Messrs" Cassidy & Kid, either? – Robbie Goodwin Dec 11 '16 at 18:55

Where appropriate, you could, perhaps, use 'Dear colleagues'.

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    This is a special case. It doesn't help with my letter, unfortunately. – aparente001 Dec 7 '16 at 2:43

Depending upon the purpose of the letter (asking for something, praising something, criticizing something) the salutation should accomplish something of the purpose in itself. For example, if the salutation is: "Dear friend of education" the writer is (rhetorically) placing himself/herself in a specific category and placing all readers in the same group. Note that gender is irrelevant and also note that in either praise or blame content the reader will be "friendly" i.e. open to the argument. So consider the purpose. What do you want to accomplish? And make the salutation the beginning of the purpose.

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    karyse, the purpose of a letter should never effect the salutation, any more than whether you want a loan or to make an investment should change the way you speak to your bank manager; not even in US marketing-speak. If it does, that’s part of the definition of junk mail. If the salutation is: "Dear friend of education" then please, how is the writer placed in any specific category except that of writers who are happy to insult their addressees by failing to capitalise it? Note that gender is not irrelevant; it’s dispenses with; not the same thing… more… – Robbie Goodwin Dec 14 '16 at 1:05
  • Also note that in neither praise or blame content will the reader necessarily be more ”friendly" ie, open to the argument, than with any other polite salutation. So never change the salutation from what it should be, which is as personal as it can reasonably be made.… Dear Tommy or Dear Mr Atkins, depending on how well you know him. Dear Specific Description such as, if you must, Friend of Education, if you really can’t find a name. Dear Sir if you really can’t find out anything except his gender. Dear Sir or Madame as pretty much a last resort… more… – Robbie Goodwin Dec 14 '16 at 1:08
  • once upon a time things were different; in this day and age it is unlikely that you can find out nothing about your addressee so the main effect of “Dear Sir or Madame” will usually be to show that you didn’t try. – Robbie Goodwin Dec 14 '16 at 1:08

I have a cover letter that opens something like:

Greetings to the members of ________,

Then, since it's a motivational letter you could just open, flat out, with some statement about how awesome your students are. If you're going to greet the members of that graduate program then you should literally greet the members of that graduate program though.

  • @EllieKesselman I appreciate you catching that I mispelled "members" but please don't edit things down on account of your personal aesthetics. – Chib Dec 13 '16 at 2:30
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    I think you should appreciate not rollback the edit (both parts). Any improvement is a good thing even if minor. – k1eran Dec 15 '16 at 20:55
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    @k1eran It's not really an improvement though. It's more like a disagreement over style. (paulgraham.com/talk.html) – Chib Dec 16 '16 at 20:59
  • That PaulGraham article is very interesting. I take the point that it is just style. I guess, I (and perhaps @EllieKesselman ?) prefer a fairly formal and concise style in questions/answers but can tolerate a more more chatty style in comments. Your comment/link has give me something to think about in my own future edits! – k1eran Dec 16 '16 at 21:20
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    Thank you, @k1eran as you are correct: I do prefer a fairly formal and concise style in questions/answers ;o) – Ellie Kesselman Dec 17 '16 at 14:16

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