how to address a letter

How to Address a Letter, Package, or Parcel

Addressing letters is pretty easy. Just look at your mail and see how others sent you mail!

Thanks to texting, email, social media, and various instant messaging apps, the art of hand-writing letters is nearly as archaic as sending a telegram. But sending other things through the mail is as popular as ever thanks to the online ordering of goods! And for that, the rules of addressing an envelope haven’t changed. Writing your recipient’s delivery information clearly, legibly, and accurately on an envelope, package, postcard, or other parcel is the difference between it arriving on your recipient’s doorstep or it falling into some netherworld at the post office, never to see the light of day again.

How and where to write on the envelope

When you write on the envelope is up to you, and why you do it is also your business only. But when it comes to where on the parcel you write the address and how to do it? That’s where things get sticky.

  • Most mail is sorted by machines with surprising accuracy. Even your elderly arthritic grandmother’s letters end up where they are supposed to go. Nevertheless, you should make every effort to write clearly and legibly. Take your time and make sure you can read what you wrote.
  • Be sure to use dark-colored ink. Pencil lead could easily be erased and re-addressed by some ne’er-do-well individual. Likewise, a yellow pen would be a poor choice as it would be difficult to see. Use black or blue, or even red in a pinch. Hell, if all you have is a crayon, go for it.
  • There should be an obvious front side to the envelope or flat package you are sending. If it’s a box, it could be any of the sides. Write all of the information on that front side.
  • Write the recipient’s name and address in the lower center of the envelope. It doesn’t need to be scientific; just remember the top third of the envelope will be reserved for stamps and other postage marks.
  • Write your own address legibly, but smaller, in the very top left. This is known as the “return address” in the event that you screw up the main address or postage somehow and the letter needs to come back to you.

Sure, I know where and how to write that stuff, but… what do I write?

Well, you are going to need to gather some of this information on your own, but for the most part you should be able to piece it together.

If sending to an individual, write the recipient’s name on the first line. If sending to a business, write the business name on the first line.

If sending to an individual at their business address, begin by writing “Attn:” and then the individual’s name on the first line, followed by the company name on the second line.

  • Example:
    Attn: Rev. Jose S. Graham
    Bricklayers Union of Southwestern Vermont

If sending to a child or pet, write their name on the first line. Since the local mail carrier may not recognize the name, or the recipient may not be capable of opening or reading the letter, write “c/o” and then a parent or guardian’s line on the second line. “c/o” stands for “in care of.”

  • Example:
    Baby Judy
    c/o Gandolf & Rosita Banks

Next, write the address of the recipient. You will need to find this on your own, if you don’t already know it. Many addresses can be found with a quick internet search.

  • Example:
    Mary Cruz, III
    182 Sycamore Place

Finally, end the address with the city, state, country (if sending outside the country of origin), and postal/zip code. Again, you will need to have this information already or obtain it.

  • Example:
    Dr. Barry X. Daniels, Ph.D.
    939 E Cranberry Silo Rd
    Pheasant City, SD 57999

Now it’s time to write your own return address in the upper left corner! This should consist of your own name, address, city, state, country if applicable, and postal code.

Got any additional info to put on the package or envelope for the post office, like “DO NOT BEND” or “FRAGILE”? Go ahead and write that someplace out of the way, even on the back side.

Then just slap a stamp on that baby and drop it off at the post office or an outgoing mailbox.

What if I make a mistake addressing a letter?

If you wrote the wrong address or name in ink, you’d better consider one of these options rather than just scribbling out the error.

  • Start over with a new envelope/package.
  • Use white-out.
  • Tape a strip of paper over the top of the error and re-write it.

Still need help? Ask your local postmaster! It’s widely known that postmasters are among the friendliest professionals in any industry.

Whew! What a headache! Thank goodness for email, where we only need one short email address and not a whole bunch of additional info.

My Hot Take

My mother was the rural mail carrier for our town for over twenty years, and knew everyone so well that she could successfully deliver mail with no name or mailing address. She would be able to tell who sent the letter and to whom it was sent often by the postage marks and handwriting. That may work in Middle-of-Nowhere, South Dakota, but basically everywhere else in the world, that letter is not getting to its intended destination.


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