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How to Address an Envelope
Letter writing is a lost art. In today’s world of ultrafast email and near-instantaneous text messages, the humble handwritten letter has suffered a steep decline. And that’s a shame because you can’t match the emotional appeal of handwritten communications. There’s something visceral about opening a physical letter, seeing the hand-scribed words scattered across the page, and reading the sender’s thoughts set down in ink.
Thankfully, handwritten cards and other “snail mail” options are making a comeback. Consumers, tired of the antiseptic quality of digital communications, are revisiting the warmth and connectivity that’s only possible with handwritten letters. Businesses are discovering that handwritten communications are an excellent way to reach their prospects and customers, enjoying a 99% open rate! And recipients everywhere are thrilled that more hand-addressed envelopes are showing up in their mailboxes than have in a very long time.
Those of us caught up in the digital world of automated bill payment, email, and chat, may not remember the finer points of how to address an envelope. And some younger people may never have learned. So, in the spirit of boosting a communications mode that’s near and dear to our hearts, we present a quick primer featuring everything you need to know about how to address an envelope.
ADDRESSING AN ENVELOPE: THE BASICS
There are three main elements of a fully executed envelope, the recipient’s address, the sender’s return address, and the postage. Each has a specific location on the envelope designated for placement. Remember that you should write on the back of the envelope, That’s the side without the closing flap.
Without the recipient’s address, the post office wouldn’t know where to send your letter. You’ll center the first line of this address in the middle of the envelope and then add all additional lines below the first.
Stamps are just as important as the recipient’s address. Without proper postage, your letter or card will be returned to you unsent. Postage is placed in the top right corner of the envelope.
Finally, we have the return address — that’s your address. Technically, this isn’t required. Assuming you’ve used the right recipient address and applied sufficient postage, your letter will arrive in your recipient’s mailbox even without a return address. However, it’s strongly recommended that you add one because if you don’t, and there’s something wrong, the post office won’t know who to return the letter to. Your return address goes in the top left corner.
SEE ALSO: How to Write an Opening to a Letter
PROPERLY FORMATTING THE RECIPIENT’S ADDRESS
For domestic U.S. mail, you should use conventional address formatting standards. This means starting with the recipient’s name. In the case of a business, start with the business name and then add the recipient’s name on the next line, prepended by “ATTN:” or “c/o”.
Once your recipient is designated, place the street information on the next line down. Long street addresses can be split into two lines if necessary. Below that, add the city/state/ZIP code portion of the address. For domestic mail, a country name isn’t required. We’ll look at foreign mail shortly.
ADDING THE RETURN ADDRESS
Again, while not required, a return address is advisable. Start the recipient’s name in the top left corner of the envelope. Similar to the recipient’s address, if there’s a business name, that supersedes the recipient’s name in address order.
Next add the street address on one or two lines, as needed, and follow up with the city, state, and ZIP code. For both the recipient and return addresses, it’s recommended to use the full nine-digit ZIP code.
A complete ZIP code is formatted like this:
This includes the standard five digits we’re used to, plus an additional four digits after a dash, which designate specific mail delivery routes. The more information you give the post office, the faster they can deliver your mail.
If you don’t know your or your recipient’s four-digit extension code, the USPS website has a handy tool for finding it. Simply enter the address in question, click “Find” and the site will return the full, official address including the correct four-digit extension.
SEE ALSO: When You Should Send Out Cards
AFFIX YOUR POSTAGE
Adding stamps is simple, and even easier now that peel and place stamps have replaced the old “lick and stick” variety. If you have a single stamp, you’ll place it in the top right corner of the envelope. For more than one, place the first in the top right corner and then place additional stamps to the left of the first.
It’s important to use sufficient postage. Stamps are how you pay for delivery, and if you don’t apply enough, your mail will be returned. First-class postage for a letter under one ounce costs $0.55. Purchasing forever stamps is a good idea. These are worth whatever first-class happens to be at the time they’re used. Right now they’re worth $0.55. If the price goes up to $0.65 a few years from now, the forever stamps value will grow to match.
If your mail is heavier than one ounce, you’ll need more than one stamp. To determine how much postage is required, you can check this updated USPS postage rate page. It describes the service’s various rates and requirements. You’ll also need a scale to weigh your mail.
SEE ALSO: First-Class Mail vs. Standard Mail
MAILING TO MILITARY ADDRESSES
Addressing an envelope for a military destination follows the same placement protocols as a standard location. The format of the address is very similar, too, with a few notable exceptions:
- Instead of a city, you’ll see an abbreviation designating the type of military installation you’re mailing to: FPO (Fleet Post Office, APO (Air/Army Post Office), or DPO (Diplomatic Post Office.)
- In place of the state, another abbreviation designates the duty station: AA (Armed Forces America), AE (Armed Forces Europe) and AP (Armed Forces Pacific.)
- The ZIP code structure remains the same. However, some military addresses require all nine digits, so it’s good practice to use them by default.
MAILING TO INTERNATIONAL ADDRESSES
Like military addresses, the basic format — return address, recipient address, postage, from left to right — stays the same. Just be sure to copy your recipient’s address exactly as it’s written, because the formatting will likely be different from domestic addresses. Be sure to include the country name at the bottom. Also, remember to check how much postage you’ll need for international mail.