How to Address Mail – Postcards, Envelopes & Packages (United States)
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
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.
Recipient's Full Name
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
Use Uppercase Letters
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.
Omit Punctuation, Special Charcters and Extra Spaces
The USPS prefers punctuation to be omitted. This includes commas, periods, parentheses, etc. Hyphens, however, are accepted in the ZIP+4 Code.
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.
Correctly Address Recipient(s)
Write the recipient's full name - first name and last name.
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
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.
Abbreviate Street Suffixes
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.
Abbreviate Secondary Unit Designators
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.
The pound symbol should not be used as a secondary unit designator if the correct designation is already specified.
Don't Abbreviate Cities
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 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
Include the ZIP Code and ZIP+4
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
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.
Sender's Full Name
City, State, ZIP Code (ZIP+4 - Not Mandatory)
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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.