How To Label An Envelope (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 13, 2020

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While you, like many people, probably don’t send much snail mail in your daily life, you will still find yourself needing to do so every once in a while, especially in business correspondence.

Event invitations, thank-you notes, and government and corporate documents are all often sent through the mail, so it’s important that you know how to send them properly. Your letter will be read and sorted by machine, so correctly addressing the envelope will ensure it gets to the recipient quickly and safely.

Read on to learn how to do this properly and professionally.

How To Address an Envelope

Addressing an envelope isn’t a complicated task, but it is essential that you do it correctly for both the recipient’s address and the sender’s (your) address. Otherwise, your letter may be delayed or lost in the mail entirely.

These standards are the same whether you’re writing the addresses by hand, printing them onto labels, or printing them directly onto the envelope.

  1. Writing the recipient’s address. The recipient’s address is written in the middle of the envelope. The first line should be at center, which means the rest of the address will be below center. Keep the address to three to four lines long, write it legibly, ideally with a pen with dark ink, and make sure it won’t bleed.

    Here is the basic structure of the address:

    RECIPIENT’S NAME
    STREET ADDRESS
    CITY, STATE ZIP CODE

    In real life, it’ll look something like this:

    MR. JOHN ADAMS
    1111 MAIN STREET
    BOSTON, MA 02134

  2. Writing the sender’s address. The sender’s address, also called the return address, is where the letter should be sent if it can’t be delivered to the recipient. Usually, this is your address or the address of the company you work for. It isn’t required, but it is the only way to get your letter back if something goes wrong with the delivery.

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    The preferred place to write the sender’s address is in the top left corner of the front of the envelope, but you can also write it on the back flap. Often you’ll find that envelopes from personalized stationery sets print it there.

    The sender’s address is going to be structured just like the recipient’s:

    SENDER’S NAME
    STREET ADDRESS
    CITY, STATE ZIP CODE

    Or:

    MS. SARAH WILLIAMS
    4444 WALL STREET
    PHILADELPHIA, PA 19019

  3. Adding the stamp. Last but not least, be sure you place a stamp in the top right corner on the front of the envelope. Make sure you’re using the right type: A Forever stamp will work on most basic letters, but you might need a different kind or more than one for oddly shaped or heavier mailings.

    Check the USPS website or with your local post office for more information.

Tips for Addressing Envelopes

While your letter will more often than not make it to its destination with just the basic steps listed above, here are some tips that will help it travel faster and make sure it gets into the right hands.

  1. Use capital letters. While it isn’t required, the machines that scan your envelope will be able to read it more accurately if you use all caps to address your letter. Doing this will cut down on errors and help your letter travel faster.

  2. Use a sans serif font. If you’re typing out your letter’s addresses, make sure you choose a font without any serifs or fancy scrolls. Helvetica, for example, is easy for machines (and humans) to read.

    If you’re addressing the envelope by hand, make sure you’re printing the address clearly instead of writing it in cursive.

  3. Use the correct abbreviations. If you try to fully write out every word in an address, you may end up with an awkward-looking envelope that is difficult to read. The good news is that you can abbreviate many parts of the address. You just need to make sure you’re doing it correctly so that the post office machines can read it.

    Here are the proper abbreviations for some of the most common street suffixes:

    • Street: ST

    • Avenue: AVE

    • Circle: CIR

    • Boulevard: BLVD

    • Place: PL

    • Drive: DR

    • Court: CT

    • Lane: LN

    • Loop: LOOP

    • Junction: JCT

    • Way: WAY

    In addition, here are the abbreviations for compass points, also called directionals, found in many addresses:

    • North: N

    • South: S

    • East: E

    • West: W

    • Northwest: NW

    • Southeast: SE

    If you use these abbreviations, your address will go from this:

    2262 EAST OCEANSIDE BOULEVARD

    To this:

    2262 E OCEANSIDE BLVD

  4. Include apartment and suite numbers. If your recipient lives in an apartment or works in a specific suite of a business building, you’re going to need to include this information in your address as well. In fact, your letter may not arrive at all if you don’t include it.

    To do this, simply add the information to the end of the main address line or as another line underneath it. For example, you could write the same address either of these two ways:

    3333 N MAIN ST
    APT 202
    CINCINNATI, OH 41073

    3333 N MAIN ST APT 202
    CINCINNATI, OH 41073

    There are some official abbreviations for these secondary unit designations that you can use as well:

    • Apartment: APT

    • Suite: STE

    • Building: BLDG

    • Floor: FL

    • Room: RM

    • Unit: UNIT

    • Department: DPT

  5. Add a ZIP+4. While all that’s required to deliver your letter is the standard five-digit ZIP code, you can add a more specific ZIP+4 code so that your letter will arrive faster.

    ZIP+4 codes are the regular ZIP-code followed by a dash and four more digits, like this: 90210-0803.

    To find out what the correct ZIP+4 is for your letter, you can look it up on the USPS website.

  6. Remove extra punctuation. Streamline the mailing process for your letter by removing periods, quotation marks, ampersands, and other forms of punctuation. Generally, the only punctuation you need is a comma after the city you’re sending your letter to and the periods after your recipients’ prefixes.

Etiquette for Addressing Professional Envelopes

If you’re addressing an envelope for a professional letter, there is some etiquette that you will need to follow to make a good impression.

  1. Use proper prefixes. Make sure you include the appropriate prefixes for your recipient’s name when addressing a professional or formal letter. Unless told otherwise, use “Ms.” before a woman’s name and “Mr.” before a man’s.

    If you’re addressing someone with an M.D. or Ph.D., use “Dr.” instead of Ms. or Mr. The same goes for any other special designation such as a military rank.

    Make sure you do this for your own name on the return address as well.

  2. Address it to the company and then the individual. If you’re mailing a letter to someone’s work address, put the company’s name on the top line and the individual’s name on the line below it, preceded by the abbreviation for “attention.”

    It should look like this:

    CENTRAL TECHNOLOGY COMPANY
    ATTN: BROOKE FRASIER
    3333 W 70 AVE
    DALLAS, TX 75001

Addressing Envelopes for Military Addresses

When you send a letter to a military base, the address’s general structure will be the same as it usually is, except for the city and state.

Instead of a city, you’ll address your envelope to one of these locations:

  • Air/Army Post Office: APO

  • Fleet Post Office: FPO

  • Diplomatic Post Office: DPO

You’ll then replace the state with one of these designations:

  • Armed Forces America: AA

  • Armed Forces Europe (also includes the Middle East, Africa, and Canada): AE

  • Armed Forces Pacific: AP

You’ll include a ZIP code as you usually would, but you will probably need a ZIP+4 to ensure delivery. Be sure to include any proper name prefixes and ranks as well.

Here is an example of what the address will look like on your envelope:

SEAMAN BILL JONES
USS HAMILTON
FPO AP 96543-1234

Addressing Envelopes for International Addresses

If you’re sending mail to an international address, you’ll need to look up the address requirements for your letter’s specific destination.

Generally, though, the format will stay the same, except for the addition of the name of the country at the end of the address, like this:

MS. ANNA THOMPSON
1234 LONG STREET
LONDON WIP 6HQ
ENGLAND

The country’s name needs to be written in capital letters on its own line at the end of the address because this is the most important information USPS needs to sort your letter.

Here are some additional tips for sending a letter internationally:

  1. Consider adding a return address. Because of the security concerns that can come with international mail, the USPS recommends that you include a return address on your out-of-country letters, and requires it if you’re mailing something with a customs form or as a part of a bulk mailing.

    If you do add your return address, make sure you add “USA” on its own line at the bottom of your address.

  2. Check postage requirements. While you can send most standard-sized letters with just a Global Forever stamp, some countries may require more postage, especially if your letter is heavier than one ounce or oddly shaped.

    Make sure you check the requirements before you mail your letter to ensure it gets to its destination.

  3. Double-check your mailing address. While the USPS will often check local addresses to make sure they’re correct, they can’t check international ones as easily.

    To make sure your letter gets where it needs to go, have the recipient confirm that you’ve addressed the envelope correctly.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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