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Suppose I need to write an letter (email, actually), addressed to two academicians. One is a full professor, and the other does not yet have this title. What is a polite way of opening the letter?

If the letter was to be addressed to just the professor, it would certainly be proper to open with "Dear Professor Smith". If the letter was just to the not-yet-professor, I suppose it would be acceptable to open with either "Dear Professor Jones" (using a higher title for politeness) or "Dear Doctor Jones" (using his proper title).

What happens if you need to address the two people at once in a polite way? It seems that addressing Jones as Doctor would draw attention to the fact that he does not yet have professorship. On the other hand, addressing Jones as Professor leads to him and Smith being given the same title, and Smith might not like that.

Of course, in almost all circumstances this is a non-issue, since neither Jones nor Smith will pay much attention. But given how many conventions there are for writing letters, I somehow feel there should be a rule also for situations such as this one. Is there one?

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    "Gentlemen, I am writing you today because ..." – Dan Bron Nov 1 '14 at 20:57
  • This question appears to be off-topic because it is about psychology – Armen Ծիրունյան Nov 1 '14 at 21:03
  • @ArmenԾիրունյան: Thank you for the comment. I meant it as a question about the rules for writing letters, and hence about the language (or maybe culture) rather than psychology. – Jakub Konieczny Nov 1 '14 at 21:07
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    This is what Academia is all about. – Kris Nov 2 '14 at 0:42
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    May perhaps be migrated to Academia – Kris Nov 2 '14 at 0:44
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I'll answer this from experience rather than with sources. Academics in my country (Australia - this may be different for you) tend to have relatively informal relationships with PhD students and fellow academics.

As with all situations, the answer depends on how well you know these people. If I were writing an email to my supervisor and head of faculty (let's call them Dr. John Super and Prof. Michael Faculty) I'd probably write this:

Dear John and Prof. Faculty,

That's simply because I know Dr. Super but haven't really seen much of Prof. Faculty. This style is quite informal, and I would only do this because I know that this is acceptable and neither party will be offended.

If I knew both John and Michael well (e.g. had a beer with them at some point), I would degenerate the style to:

Hi guys,

If I did not know either of them, on the other hand, and was writing a letter to a University in Australia, I'd write this:

Dear Dr. Super, Prof. Faculty,

There is nothing inherently right about this, it's just how I would (and have) done it. I tend to order the names by the person who I'd most like to actually read the letter.

In terms of how important this is: probably not very, unless you live in a particularly high context culture or have picky professors.

I wouldn't give much thought to it!

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