Test: How to Address an Envelope

What is the proper way to address an envelope in the U.S. and Canada? Do you think you know the answer? In a business writing seminar last week, we found we did not all agree on what is correct. So I have done research into addressing envelopes (I know how to have fun!), using Publication 28 of the United States Postal Service (USPS), Addressing Guidelines of the Canada Post, and, for backup, The Gregg Reference Manual.

Test Yourself

  1. If you want to include an Attention line on the envelope, does it belong at the beginning of the address, or below it?
  2. Do U.S. and Canadian postal authorities require that you use all-capital letters in addresses?
  3. For international mailing from the U.S. or Canada, should you underline the country to which you are mailing? Should you abbreviate it, for example UAE for United Arab Emirates?
  4. True or False: If an address line is longer than 40 characters, the optical scanner of the USPS will not read it.
  5. Does the USPS require that you eliminate courtesy titles such as Ms. and Mr. in discount mailings?
  6. In Canada, is it acceptable to translate French names of locales into English? (for example, rendering Trois-Rivieres as Three Rivers)?
  7. When copying an address from someone’s business card, should you include both the physical address and the P.O. Box if both are on the card?
  8. Is it acceptable to center the elements of an address, like this?
                 Mr. Rod Donaldson
             17714 N. Broadview Circle
                Chicago, IL 60402-2423
  9. What is the one punctuation mark the USPS requires in the address?
  10. Which of these is correct:
    16240 Washington Street, Suite 201    OR
    16240 Washington Street
    Suite 201 
  11. In the U.S. and Canada, is it correct to include the # (number sign) in addresses, as in:
    989 Revere Drive, Apt. #204
  12. Does the USPS prefer that you spell out city names (for example, West Stockbridge) or abbreviate them (W. Stockbridge)?
  13. Do the USPS and Canada Post prefer that you spell out Rural Route or use the abbreviation RR?
  14. Do the USPS and Canada Post prefer one space or two before the ZIP code or postal code?
  15. In Canada, what does the first letter of the postal code represent (for example, the H in H3Z 2Y7)? 

Answers

  1. Any Attention line belongs at the beginning of the address. Nothing should be included on the envelope below the address.
  2. Both postal authorities prefer addresses in all-capital letters but do not require them, knowing that customers have strong preferences for normal capitalization.
  3. Do not underline or abbreviate country names.
  4. True, according to the USPS.
  5. The USPS has no preference about courtesy titles. You may decide to omit a courtesy title to shorten a line.
  6. It is not acceptable to translate place names.
  7. If you are mailing through Canada Post or the USPS, use only the mailing address–for example, the P.O. Box. If you are mailing through a service such as FedEx, use the street address. If you are not sure what to do, include the street address above the P.O. Box.
  8. It is not acceptable to center addresses. Use a uniform left margin.
  9. The USPS requires a hyphen between the two parts of the ZIP+4 Code. Example: 98117-5415
  10. The correct choice includes the suite on the same line. If the line is too long, information such as Suite, Apartment, etc., should be on the line above–not below. Addresses go from small to big; that is, from person, to department, to company, to street, to city, to state, to country.
  11. In the U.S., it is not correct to include the number sign if you know what the unit is. For example, if you know that it is an apartment, write Apt. 24. If you know it is a box, write Box 27. If you do not know what the number stands for, you may use the number sign, but the USPS asks that you leave a space between the number sign and the number, like this: # 45. In Canada, you should never use the # or the French equivalent.
  12. The USPS prefers that you spell out cities. Only abbreviate if you must shorten a line.
  13. Both postal authorities want RR–not Rural Route.
  14. Both postal authorities want two spaces before the codes.
  15. The first letter in Canada’s postal codes indicates one of 18 major geographic areas, provinces, or districts. Although Y represents the Yukon Territory and S stands for Saskatchewan, the other letters do not seem to match the geographical area.

I hope you learned something–I certainly did. To keep on learning, please use these links: Publication 28 of the United States Postal Service, Addressing Guidelines of the Canada Post, and The Gregg Reference Manual. Remember: I am a writer and a business writing teacher–not a mailing expert.

Lynn

48 COMMENTS

  1. I ran across this by chance via Google. I’m British, and it was interesting to see the differences from our system. For example, in the UK you’d write:

    John Smith
    Flat 2A
    Big House
    Long Road
    Anytown
    Yorkshire
    AB1 2CD

    In other words, a separate line for each part of the address: you would never, ever put the postcode on the same line as the town/city name.

    The other difference, which catches out my North American friends, is that in the UK return addresses go on the *back* of the envelope – front top left is considered incorrect here!

  2. How about the FROM address?
    Is it mandatory to put the FROM address while mailing through USPS?

    Also, there is a difference between where the from addresses are written on the envelope in Asian countries and in the US. In Asia, generally the from address is written on the right bottom corner, and in the U.S. its written on the left top corner.

  3. Great article, Lynn.

    Yes, every continent has it’s own writing style. No, you do not need to add a return address when sending a piece of mail. However, don’t expect the mail to return to you if it’s undeliverable!

  4. Yes, a return address is essential if you want a piece returned to you!

    In the US., the return address belongs in the upper-left corner of the front of the envelope. The parts of the return address should appear in the same order as the mailing address.

    Now, go write someone a nice letter!

    Lynn

  5. Lynn,
    I’ve been doing similar research, but I’m trying to write software to fix a customer address database that previously existed in a horrible state. The list was thirty years in the making and several software transitions (importing and exporting into the wrong fields) haven’t helped matters. What I am lacking is style guidelines on company names (capitalization, abbreviations, punctuation). Others here want to strip punctuation from company name fields (as Pub. 28 recommends for ADDRESS fields), but I don’t like the way the result looks. It FEELS wrong, but I have no reference to back up my case. For example, “Lutron Co., Inc.” looks stark as “Lutron Co Inc”. Next, do you abbreviate “Company” as “Co.”, but spell out “Corporation”? What about “Assoc”, “Eng’g”, “Ltd.”, “LLC”, “Bros.”, “Ind’l”, “Ind.”, “P.C.”, etc.? I’m (just) the IT person, meaning that I write the software that changes every one of the 10,000 records very quickly. From my point of view, I realize that taking punctuation out is easy; putting it back is nearly impossible. I am resisting making a change that someone will regret later. Can you offer some assistance or point me in a direction?

  6. Please tell me the proper way to address an envelope when sending an item in care of someone else? Example: Sending a letter to Jimmy Johnson at ABC Telemarketing Group, 222 Get Rich Ave., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

  7. If Jimmy Johnson works at ABC Telemarketing Group, there is no need to use “in care of.” Just use his name on the first line. However, if he does not work there, it would be safest to send the letter to an individual at the firm who knows him, like this:

    Mr. Jimmy Johnson
    c/o Dr. Ruben Rose
    ABC Telemarketing Group

    As you can see, Mr. Johnson’s name still belongs on the first line.

  8. If Jimmy Johnson works at ABC Telemarketing Group, there is no need to use “in care of.” Just use his name on the first line. However, if he does not work there, it would be safest to send the letter to an individual at the firm who knows him, like this:

    Mr. Jimmy Johnson
    c/o Dr. Ruben Rose
    ABC Telemarketing Group

    As you can see, Mr. Johnson’s name still belongs on the first line.

  9. I always considered myself an “expert” in writing letters– I prefer them to phone or e-mail– but I still learned quite a bit from this article.

    Thank you so much for this article!

  10. THANK YOU for all the research on this topic. It has answered all my questions. I mail a numerous envelopes weekly and feel the USPS will be happier with the address formats now that I am using the correct/preferred format.

  11. 1) In our city, the streets require North, South, East, and West clarification of addresses (e.g. “123 East Main Street” versus “123 West Main Street”). What is the USPS preference for this? The capitalized direction initial only? Capitalized initial followed by punctuation (“E.”)? Spelled out?

    2) Does the USPS prefer roadway abbreviations or do they like them spelled out when possible (“St” versus “Street”, “Ave” versus “Avenue”, “Ct” versus “Court”, etc)? If abbreviated, what is the punctuation rule following it? For example, would it be “123 Main Blvd., Suite 200” – a period and comma following the abbreviation or is one or neither of these punctuations necessary?

    Thank you! I’ve learned some things because of this webpage.

  12. If an address needs to be displayed on a single line (in a legal document or on a business card) should you substitute commas for line breaks? What is the most proper way to handle this?

  13. Hi, Jennifer. Please check the USPS website for the answers to your questions. I would have to look up the answers to your questions to ensure accuracy, and I invite you to do the same.

    Glen, yes–use commas for line breaks.

  14. Thanks for the info. Im temporarily in the USA and did not know you write return address on the front. In India the return/senders address is written on the back of the envelope

  15. What is the proper way to address an envelope with the person as a title. Eg. CEO or Vice President
    Should “Mr. or Ms.” be included before the name?
    Mr. John Doe, Vice President
    or
    John Doe, Vice President
    222 West 23 St
    City, State Zip

  16. What is the proper way to address an envelope or insert an address in letter when the address includes direction?

    John Doe
    1234 2 St NE
    City, State Zip

    or

    John Doe
    1234 2 St, NE
    City, State Zip

  17. Should the mailing address by centered on the envelope or should it be slightly off center to the right?

  18. Hi, Lori. If you are using a standard-size business letter envelope (Number 10), start your address about 4 inches in from the left edge of the envelope. In other words, start slightly to the left of center rather than the right–to allow room to type the address.

    Lynn

  19. If a customer (ABC) request me to bill and address the invoice to his subsidiary company (XYZ), may I do like this format??

    ABC
    c/o XYZ
    address of XYZ
    country of XYZ

  20. Sam, in answer to your question, “The Gregg Reference Manual” recommends spelling out the number 1 for a house or building number for clarity. The example “Gregg” provides is “One Park Avenue.”

    “Gregg” also recommends spelling out the numbers 1 through 10 for street names, as in “515 Tenth Avenue.”

    Those are the only numbers “Gregg” spells out, so these numbers would be correct:

    2 Park Avenue
    6 Eighth Street
    10 Downing Street

    I hope that answer is helpful to you.

    Lynn

  21. I have a friend in Marines Bootcamp, and when his mom sent me his address, she didnt type it in sections for how I should write it, she sent

    RCT Doe,john E PTL 1089 1st Bn A CO. Box 1106 Parris Island, SC 29905-1006

    Any chance you know how to format this?

    *I didn’t want to disclose his name.

  22. I found this article through Google because I needed to address a letter with an “Attn:” line, and hadn’t done so in so long, or very many times in my life for that matter, that I couldn’t remember if it went all the way above the address, or after the name of the Company itself in the address. Of course I ended up reading the whole article, and although I got more answers correct that I had originally expected to, I learned a lot! Even the answers that I got correct were things that I didn’t necessarily know the reasoning for before having read this article. So thank you for taking the time to do research on the “rules” of addressing envelopes and writing a quiz/article on the subject! I learned much more today than I had expected to with regards to mail, and I’m the kind of person that just loves to learn and likes to know everything, and especially the reasons behind things, so I greatly appreciated this article!

  23. Southern_Lolli, I am not certain about about how to break up the address. Perhaps you have asked your friend’s mother for the answer.

    Here is my educated guess:

    RCT Doe, John
    E PTL 1089 1st Bn A CO.
    Box 1106
    Parris Island, SC 29905-1006

    I apologize for the belated response.

    Lynn

  24. Having a son at Parris Island as we speak, I can tell you the correct way you need to address the envelope would be:

    Rct. Doe, J T
    1st BN, Alpha Co, Plt 1089
    P.O. Box 1106
    MCRD Parris Island, SC
    29905-1106

    Always use their last name, followed by their first and middle initials. Hope this helps! Write a LOT of letters!

  25. Since it seems superfluous to put a comma between city and state in an address, I refuse to. I say: Charleston SC 29401

  26. Hi, Karen. If there is something unusual about the address, I suggest calling the school and asking for advice. Many departments have mail stops whose abbreviation is “MS.”

    The normal rule is smaller to larger:

    Person
    Department
    College
    Street address
    City, state zip code

    Lynn

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