While reading an inflight travel magazine on my vacation, I came across an ad for a resort in Traverse City, MI. Do you recognize the abbreviation MI?
Is it Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, or Missouri? I am not familiar with Traverse City, so the ad kept me guessing. It wasn’t until I had Internet access after the flight that I found the location of the resort.
The full-page ad had plenty of room to spell out Michigan on the same line with Traverse City. Why use MI and confuse potential customers?
See if you know which states in the U.S. these two-letter abbreviations represent:
You may have recognized them instantly, but many adults have spent more time reading email and text messages than noticing state abbreviations on envelopes. Like them, your international business readers may not easily recognize on that list Nebraska (not Nevada), Alabama (not Alaska), Colorado (not Connecticut), Iowa (not Indiana), and Massachusetts (not Maine or Maryland).
Customers seeking a restaurant, hotel, or business in Nevada don’t want one in Nebraska, so be sure to make your location clear to potential customers and visitors by spelling out the state name.
The place for two-letter state abbreviations is on envelopes between the city and the zip code. They were created to fill that spot, and that is where they belong.
Guideline: In business writing and journalism, when you refer to a state in text (rather than a chart), always spell it out. That way, your reader will recognize Virginia right away rather than having to translate VA.
Guideline: In business writing, when you refer in text to a city-state combination, such as Orlando, Florida, spell out the state name if you follow the guidelines of The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago) or The Gregg Reference Manual (Gregg). I strongly prefer the spelled-out style because it eliminates confusion about the name of the state.
However, if you are a journalist or business writer who follows The Associated Press Stylebook (AP), you will abbreviate the state using the traditional state abbreviations below. Some of them are the same as the two-letter postal abbreviations. However, notice that these abbreviations have periods, and in some the second letter of a two-letter abbreviation is lower case.
N.H. New Hampshire
N.J. New Jersey
N.M. New Mexico
N.Y. New York
N.C. North Carolina
N.D. North Dakota
R.I. Rhode Island
S.C. South Carolina
S.D. South Dakota
W. Va. West Virginia
Did you notice the absence of a few states? Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas, and Utah are not abbreviated in AP style. Neither is the District of Columbia. Chicago abbreviates Texas as Tex.
I bet you are wondering which style is preferred for slides, tables, and other places with limited space. Chicago prefers the two-letter postal abbreviations. AP and Gregg prefer the abbreviations listed above, but Gregg acknowledges the growing popularity of the two-letter postal versions. My Microsoft spelling and grammar checker flagged the abbreviations above, suggesting the two-letter postal versions.
When you need to abbreviate the names of Canadian provinces and territories, use the two-letter abbreviations of the Canada Post, which are appropriate in both English and French:
BC British Columbia
NB New Brunswick
NL Newfoundland and Labrador
NS Nova Scotia
NT Northwest Territories
PE Prince Edward Island
To my mind, the only place for two-letter abbreviations of states, provinces, and territories is in addresses. I follow that principle so my readers will not be confused for a moment by MA, MO, CO, ON, OR or AK.
What rules do you follow for rendering the names of states, provinces, and territories?