How to Address Mail – Postcards, Envelopes & Packages (United States)

 
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The United States Postal Service (USPS) processes and delivers nearly half of the world's mail (47%), but without a legible and valid delivery or return address – mail often ends up in the US Postal Service’s official lost and found department called the Mail Recovery Center (MRC), formally known as the Dead Letter Office. In fact, the MRC received 88 million undeliverable mail in 2014.

Whether you're mailing postcards, letters or packages – ensure your mail is addressed correctly and won't be returned or sent to the MRC.

In this post, I'm going to show you how the USPS prefers mail to be addressed.

1. Delivery Address

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The delivery address specifies the location where to deliver the mail.

Left justify and legibly print (pen or permanent marker) or type (sans serif type) the delivery address on the same side of a postcard, envelope or package that will bear the postage. Use a minimum of 6-point type for uppercase letters and avoid narrow type and script fonts.

Example
Recipient's Full Name
Complete Address
City, State, ZIP Code (ZIP+4 - not mandatory)

Placement for Letters

  • Left: 1/2 inch from the left edge
  • Right: 1/2 inch from the right edge
  • Top: 2-3/4 inches from the bottom edge
  • Bottom: 5/8 inch from the bottom edge

Visit USPS to learn more about the placement of the delivery address

Use Uppercase Letters

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The USPS will accept lowercase letters (10-12-point type) as long as they meet postal guidelines for OCR readability. However, to avoid the potential errors and delays, always use uppercase letters.

Visit USPS to learn more about using uppercase letters

Omit Punctuation, Special Charcters and Extra Spaces

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The USPS prefers punctuation to be omitted. This includes commas, periods, parentheses, etc. Hyphens, however, are accepted in the ZIP+4 Code.

94104-1207

Special characters should be omitted like the at symbol (@) and ampersand (&).

Double spaces and blanks should be single spaces. However, 2 spaces are preferred between the state postal code and the ZIP Codes and ZIP+4 Codes.

CA  94104-1207

Visit USPS to learn more about omitting punctuation and special characters

Correctly Address Recipient(s)

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Write the recipient's full name - first name and last name.

NOLAN GRIFFIN

If the recipient is elderly, a doctor, lawyer, government official or military personal, use honorific titles such as MR, MRS, MS, DR, etc. Also, use honorific titles in formal situations such as business or to show respect.

DR WILLIAM LARKIN
SSGT RYAN BUTTERWORTH

If the recipients are married, write the husband's honorific title (MR), the wife's honorific title (MRS) and then the husband's full name. Remember, the USPS prefers AND instead of an ampersand (&).

MR AND MRS NOLAN GRIFFIN
NOLAN AND JOYCE GRIFFIN

Abbreviate Common Business Words

Abbreviate organizational endings with USPS-approved abbreviations to compress the recipient line and save space. For example, COMPANY should be abbreviated with CO and INCORPORATED should be abbreviated with INC. Visit USPS for complete list of these approved last word abbreviations.

Commonly understood business words can also be abbreviated to save space. For example, ACCOUNT should be abbreviated with ACCT and LEGAL should be abbreviated with LGL. Visit USPS for complete and exhaustive list of approved business word abbreviations.

Abbreviate Compass Points

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There might be a 1234 E Main ST and a 1234 W Main ST. Failure to include E or W could result in your mail being sent to the wrong location or returned. To avoid problems, include USPS-approved abbreviations for compass points called directionals. For example, SOUTHWEST should be abbreviated with SW and NORTHWEST should be abbreviated with NW.

Visit USPS to learn more about USPS-approved directionals

Abbreviate Street Suffixes

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In order to condense the address line, use USPS-approved street suffix abbreviations. For example, STREET should be abbreviated with ST and CIRCLE should be abbreviated with CIR.

Visit USPS for a complete list of approved street suffix abbreviations

Abbreviate Secondary Unit Designators

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Information that precedes the address is called a secondary unit designator apartment, suite or floor number) and the USPS employs about two dozen approved abbreviations. For example, APARTMENT should be abbreviated with APT and SUITE should be abbreviated with STE.

The pound symbol (#) is accepted if there's a space between the pound sign and the secondary number.

# 5497

The pound symbol should not be used as a secondary unit designator if the correct designation is already specified.

APT 207

STE 5497

Visit USPS for a complete list of approved secondary unit designators

Don't Abbreviate Cities

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City names should not be abbreviated. While NOLA might be clear to some, it may not be clear to all that you meant New Orleans. Spell out entire city names.

Visit USPS to learn more about spelling city names or call 1·800·ASK·USPS

Abbreviate States

Abbreviate US states, Washington D.C. and US territories with the USPS-approved 2-letter postal codes. Be careful not to confuse the USPS-approved abbreviations with other state abbreviations, though.

MI (Michigan) - Correct
Mich. (Michigan) - Incorrect

Also, remember 2 spaces are preferred between the state and ZIP Code

CA  94104-1207

Visit USPS for a complete list of 2-letter approved abbreviations for states, territories and military "states."

Include the ZIP Code and ZIP+4

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Currently, more than 42,000 ZIP Codes are in use in the United States. A ZIP (Zone Improvement Plan) code is a 5-digit number to identify an area of the country and delivery office to which mail is directed – the American equivalent to the postal code in British English.

In 1983, the USPS introduced the ZIP+4 Code to reduce the number of handlings and decrease potential errors. The ZIP+4 code adds a hyphen and four additional digits to denote a delivery sector (block, several, office buildings, etc.) and a delivery segment (office building floor, departments in a firm, etc.).

The ZIP+4 Code is not mandatory.

Visit USPS to search zip codes or call 1·800·ASK·USPS



2. Return Address

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The return address informs the USPS where the mail should be returned if it cannot be delivered.

In the upper left corner, left justify and legibly print (pen or permanent marker) or type (sans serif type) the return address on the same side of a postcard, envelope or package that will bear the postage. Use a minimum of 6-point type for uppercase letters and avoid narrow type and script fonts.

Example
Sender's Full Name
Complete Address
City, State, ZIP Code (ZIP+4 - Not Mandatory)

Visit USPS to learn more about the placement of the return address

3. Postage

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Affix the correct postage amount in the upper right corner. The USPS provides a useful postage price calculator on their website for calculating the postage price of postcards, envelopes, boxes and other shapes and sizes.

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    Wrap Up

    You just learned how the USPS (United States Postal Service) prefers mail to be addressed. If you follow their preferences, you can expect the USPS' slogan – We Deliver For You® – to be their promise...and you won't need to worry about your mail being returned or sent to the Mail Recovery Center.

    Have you ever lost any mail? If so, what happened?

    The post How to Address Mail – Postcards, Envelopes & Packages (United States) first appeared on the Culture Gaps Blog by Jeff Shibasaki.