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Stripping Out Punctuation

Suzanne wrote with a mailing list dilemma. Some people in her company want to strip punctuation from all the mailing addresses. For example, they want to render “Lutron Co., Inc.” as “Lutron Co Inc”. Suzanne is resisting this change because it doesn’t look right to her, yet she has no reference book to back up her view. She commented:

“I’m (just) the IT person, meaning that I write the software that changes every one of the 10,000 records very quickly. 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?”

Suzanne, I’m glad to help. Here are some ideas:

  1. If your mailing list uses no punctuation and abbreviates company names (as you mentioned in your full comment), the inside address will also use no punctuation and abbreviate names. That will look wrong. It will create a “one size fits all and fits none” look on your company’s business letters.
  2. If you take out punctuation, you will be rendering many company names incorrectly, companies that have spent significant time deciding whether they want to include things like commas and periods in their names.
  3. All mailings from your company will look like mass mailings. Why? Because individual letters virtually always include standard punctuation.
  4. The U.S. Postal Service does not require punctuation stripped out. It acknowledges that addresses with punctuation are readable by its scanners.

You also asked about a list of abbreviations. Here are some I verified in The Gregg Reference Manual:

Company = Co.
Corporation = Corp.
Incorporated = Inc.
Limited = Ltd.
Manufacturing = Mfg.
Manufacturers = Mfrs.

For others, you may wish to consult Gregg or a current dictionary. But keep in mind that you do not need to abbreviate as long as each line of the address is no more than 40 characters.

Suzanne, I admire you for taking on this important fight to preserve a mailing list amassed over 30 years. Good luck!

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “Stripping Out Punctuation”

  • That is ridiculous! Since neither of you are the ones who have to type the addresses and neither of you are the ones whose jobs depend on production numbers, you have no right to impose such outdated and obviously superfluous keystrokes!

  • Dear Production Worker,

    I can tell you have strong feelings about this issue, but I am afraid I don’t understand why. These addresses had already been typed and were part of an extensive mailing list, so no one would need to type them, would they?

    My point is that once they are stripped out, they are gone forever–unless a production worker is asked to put them back in. That would be a massive, virtually impossible job.

    Thanks for jumping into the conversation.

  • Try checking with the post office. According to their standards there should be no punctuation when making envelopes or addressing letters. Their electronic equipment has difficulty in reading punctuation and it could potentially delay the mail up to 4-6 days. The best practice when mailing is to follow their rules in order to receive the cheaper rates and speed up the delivery time. This is extremely important if you begin to mail larger quantities (bulk mail). However if you aren’t in a hurry to get the mail out use the punctuation. The post office can sort by hand if needed and if you aren’t in a hurry to get your letters out in a few days. You can go to to get the details on what the post office wants. You shouldn’t be using any punctuation, all capital letters, and spacing and ink make a difference to. Check it out.

  • Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for commenting. I followed your link. These are the postal guidelines listed on that USPS page:

    *Use simple sans serif type with uniform stroke thickness.

    *Type or machine-print in dark ink on a light background with a uniform left margin.

    *Left-justify every line in the address block.

    *Use two-letter state abbreviations.

    *Use one space between city and state, two spaces between state and ZIP+4 code.

    *Use appropriate ZIP+4 code (if unknown, use 5-digit ZIP Code).

    *A minimum of 8-point type, or if the mailpiece bears a POSTNET or Intelligent Mail barcode with a delivery point routing code, a minimum of 6-point type is acceptable if printed in all capital letters.

    I couldn’t find anything about stripping out punctuation.


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