How to address a message when you don’t know the person’s gender, marital status or name
Those of us who have been in the business world before political correctness crept in can no doubt recall when the salutation Dear Sir(s) or Gentlemen reigned as the accepted generic form of address. If you still adhere to that usage, wake up—those days are history.
Unless you know for sure that the persons whom you are addressing are indeed male, you need to amend your ways or risk offending or alienating your addressees. You also risk being perceived as ill-informed or, worse, a jerk.
Here are some options that will help you set out on the right foot:
When you do not know the person’s gender:
These forms of address are appropriate in formal and informal situations, and you can safely use them in hard-copy letters or in e-mail. Because e-mail tends to be a more relaxed medium, it is also more forgiving than print. This means you probably can get away with using a less formal salutation when addressing people you do not know, provided the circumstances are informal. And sometimes a form of address is not even necessary.