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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Whenever I receive a business communication from someone unknown to me with my first name in the salutation, as in "Dear Robert," it immediately goes into the trash.

Being addressed by my first name in this context is just plain wrong. Since I don't know the person who is sending the correspondence, I find the informal tone to be highly improper.

Please remind your readers -- particularly those in business -- about your booklet on correspondence and communication, "How to Write Letters for All Occasions."

I have been accused of being "old school." However, there are rules and guidelines governing written communication, and it seems as though they are being ignored. Would you please inform people about the proper way to write? And is your "Letters" booklet still available? -- CALL ME "MISTER C.," SAN JOSE, CALIF.

DEAR MISTER C.: I hope that by the time this email sees print, you will have cooled off. The communications that offend you probably were sent as part of a mass mailing generated by a computer. If that isn't the case, then the individuals who drafted them may not have realized that in business correspondence, the salutation should read:

Dear Ms. Smith

Dear Mr. Carson

The "Letters" booklet is still available and covers additional salutations that are helpful to know, including how to address a senator or congressman, a clergyperson, etc. "How to Write Letters for All Occasions" can be ordered by sending a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus a check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds), to Dear Abby -- Letters Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Shipping and handling are included in the price. My booklet also contains helpful suggestions for writing letters of congratulations; difficult topics to address such as letters of condolence for the loss of a parent, spouse or child; and thank-you letters for birthday gifts, shower gifts, wedding gifts and those that arrive at holiday time. (A tip: Keep a notepad handy and write down what immediately comes to mind when the gift is opened. This can be helpful if later you are at a loss for words!)

Judging from the high volume of email and snail mail I receive, letter composition is something that is not always effectively taught in school. My booklet can provide a helpful assist for anyone who needs a quick and easy tutorial, and it is particularly helpful for parents to use as a way to easily teach their children how to write using proper etiquette. Keep it in a drawer and dip into it as needed.


DEAR ABBY: I am 8 years old. At the bottom of a letter, sometimes people write XOXO. Which one means hug and which one means kiss? -- ANNA IN MISSOURI

DEAR ANNA: The "X" means kiss and the "O" signifies a hug.

P.S. Some people write "SWAK" on the flap of the envelope, which stands for "sealed with a kiss."

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