Usually it is simple: "Dear Prof. Berret...", Dear Dr. Jones...". But this time I have to write a formal letter to a person with a Masters Degree (MSc). I never met the person, can not be sure about their gender (Tracy Smith could be both man/woman). The person is active in academia, publishing frequently and their job title is "Director". What are my options?

Dear Director of... (with no name)? Dear Principal Investigator ...? Dear Mr Smith? Dear Mrs Smith?


  • 4
    Where is this person located in the world? Why do you need to write them a formal letter?
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 18, 2020 at 16:17
  • 7
    Why can't you write "Dear Tracy Smith,..."?
    – astronat
    Nov 18, 2020 at 16:52
  • 2
    OP here: location is North America, purpose: job application. Nov 18, 2020 at 19:03
  • There was a time, c. 2001, when personnel at the development office of my alma mater used to address formal letters to Bachelor's graduates "Dear Ds. Smith" (where Tracy Smith is male) or "Dear Da. Smith" (where Tracy Smith is female), with "Ds." and "Da." being abbreviations for "Dominus" and "Domina" respectively. There might be equivalent abbreviations for "Magister" and "Magistra". But that's probably too formal for a job application, and it doesn't avoid the need to know the addressee's gender. Nov 18, 2020 at 21:38

4 Answers 4


Don't overthink it. Try to find out the gender and then use "Mr." or "Mrs."
Even many professors don't insist on titles most the time and a person with a master degree is usually just a (former) student, who is one step further than other students. In a second E-Mail you can then use how they call themself in their signature.

"Dear Director" may be appropriate, when the job position is relevant to your E-Mail.

(It may depend on the country how much people want to be addressed using their academic full title)

  • 2
    A director of something probably isn't a student Nov 18, 2020 at 17:46
  • I added "(former)". But it may still depend on the country, how much people insist on their academic titles.
    – allo
    Nov 19, 2020 at 18:24

If you are not sure of the proper title to use because information is missing (in this case gender), then the best way is to use a general salutation, leaning towards a more formal form.

'Dear Sir/Madam,' (capitals depending on locality) or even just 'L.S.' (lectori salutem). I also see no problem with 'Dear director Smith,', but know not everyone might appreciate that. For job applications 'Dear hiring manager,' is also commonly used and acceptable.

P.S. I've never heard of Tracy as a male name. Is it just an example or is there really a place where it's common for men to be called that?


At least far as I am aware, truly "formal letters" for job application purposes in the US/Canada are pretty much obsolete (I can't say as much about other areas of North America, you haven't been very specific). Maybe in some particular fields where I don't have much exposure that isn't true (law? certain areas of business? politics?). There may be formal communication of contracts and such, but not as much between peers or people who will be in a direct reporting relationship.

There's polite address, sure, but politely referring to someone by name is usually sufficient when they don't have a more official title. "Dear Firstname Lastname" is fine for someone without a doctorate, professor role, or government role. Even the "Dear" is a bit quaint these days.

  • ""formal letters" for job application purposes in the US/Canada are pretty much obsolete" No, they are required for all academic jobs I have seen in US/Canada. Dec 20, 2020 at 5:14

In these cases, I either sidestep the issue and say "Greetings" or refer to them by their first name, e.g., "Dear Tracy."

  • 2
    ...this is not appropriate in the whole world. Is this answer about the US by any chance?
    – user111388
    Nov 18, 2020 at 18:58
  • It is and great! What's appropriate in your context? (Also looks like the OP is in North America - not sure if what I would do is applicable to the whole region)
    – E. Tucker
    Nov 18, 2020 at 19:25
  • "Mr. Director" or finding out all the titles (if anyhow possible) would be appropriate in my region. (Maybe you could add to your answer where this answer applies to?)
    – user111388
    Nov 18, 2020 at 21:53

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