USPS Asks That You Write Addresses Clearly To Speed Up The Holiday Mail Season

This coming Monday is the busiest day of the year for the USPS and they’d really appreciate it if you’d write your addresses in clear handwriting, so the computers can read them without human help.

From ABCNews:

A large part of the post office’s system is automated. Deputy Postmaster General Pat Donahoe told ABC News that 85 percent of all hand-written cards have their addresses read automatically by computers. The system then sprays on an 11-digit barcode which gives the Postal Service the ability to put mail in order for delivery.

“So nobody sorts the mail except machines which sort 36,000 pieces an hour,” Donahoe said.

When the computer can’t read the handwriting, a picture is taken and sent to one of eight data centers across the country. Humans there read it and type the information back into the system and a barcode is added.

So what can you do to ensure smooth sailing for your mail?

First, try to print the complete address clearly. A complete address includes street number and name, secondary address — such as apartment or suite number — city, state and 5-digit zip code. For example: 123 S. Main St., Apt 4, Washington, DC 20001. To find the proper zip code, visit or call 1-800-ASK-USPS.

You can also take advantage of the USPS’s free packing supplies and free package pickup. The USPS would also like to remind you not to drop packages weighing more than 13 ounces into the blue collection boxes shown above. Even if they have Ron Paul stickers on them. Thank you.

Tips for Shipping Your Christmas Gifts [ABCNews]


Edit Your Comment

  1. darkclawsofchaos says:

    USPS, these guys are doing a great job. and if you get things shipped to you, having P.O. BOX means that your stuff won’t get stolen, if it gets lost, the burden is on the office to replace it.

  2. Also, I heard many moons ago that the software has an easier read if you use no punctuation. So just the city state zip+4, and no comma. That was back in like the mid nineties I heard that, so maybe computers have improved, but I think they still have a basic b8 problem.

  3. velvetjones says:

    @GitEmSteveDave: yup, no commas people!

  4. savvy999 says:

    what’s the significance of the rain-cloud graffiti?

    Some tagger out there having a case of the Mondays?

  5. HRHKingFriday says:

    Also, try printing out addresses (either on sticky labels or on paper to tape on) for your packages. Trust me, OCR technology really isn’t that great. For best results use times new roman.

  6. ChiefDanGeorge says:

    Neither rain nor snow…..

  7. Slightlt off topic, but does anyone remember the X-files episode where they had a guy whose job it was to stand at the machine, and when it came across a problem, it would shunt it in front of him, and he would hand punch in the zip, and it would go back onto the line. I remember that the little red display of what he was punching in started displaying “Kill” and other things, and I think the guy went postal soon afterwards. That’s what this story reminded me of.

  8. HaloZero says:

    Type, print it and tape it to your box. Make everybody’s life easier. That’s what I do.

  9. @GitEmSteveDave: Wait, you read a story about holiday mail and the FIRST think you think of is a machine ordering a man to kill people?

    Should we be concerned?

    As long as we’re talking about what this made us think of:
    A complete address includes street number and name, secondary address — such as apartment or suite number — city, state and 5-digit zip code.

    This reminded me of all those forms that refuse to acknowledge the some people live in apartments. It makes me nervous when there isn’t a separate line for that on a form, especially electronic ones. How do I know it won’t get cut off?

  10. SaveMeJeebus says:

    We put labels on all of our crap to send out and for packages we did the USPS online postage. The labels are in some stylish font but still easy to read. I guess we’ll see. They’ve always done a good job with their products if you can stay away from the perpetually understaffed stores and do everything selfhelp. I just use a fishing scale to weigh packages and pay online.

  11. Nytmare says:

    If you are a doctor, please ask your spouse to do all the envelope addressing.

  12. czarandy says:

    Note that you can put mail over 13 ounces in the blue boxes if it isn’t stamped. For example if you print postage online or have prepaid address labels you can use them.

  13. UpsetPanda says:

    @GitEmSteveDave: The episode was called “Blood” and it was about a series of seemingly random killings…the only clue at each crime scene is that electronics are smashed, and the agents find out that people are seeing messages in electronic readouts.

    Mulder speculated that the government was spraying chemicals in the area to test mind control, but the government denied any spraying was taking place.

    A childhood full of X-Files led to this…

  14. Klay says:

    We used to spend thousands of dollars a month with UPS, FedEx and (God Fforbid) DHL. Not anymore. Now it is virtually all done with USPS. Use their website, or Dymo Labels, pack print and the stuff *gets* there. You have all kinds of stamp, postage, insurance & delivery options and don’t forget the mail inspectors are always overhead. Free shipping supplies and easy to use. And what is fun is to not wait in line this time of year! I sound like an ad but nope. No “brown” ’round here.

  15. UpsetPanda says:

    @Klay: But…Fedex has that cute little dog on their truck and UPS has that guy with the white board. How can you resist?!

    Haha. I ship everything with USPS if I possibly can. I try to avoid fedex and UPS unless something I order comes by one of them and the return form specifically requires it to be sent back by that.

  16. robdew2 says:

    Leave it to the post office to blame their processing problems on their customers.

  17. Gloria says:

    I seriously am not sure why some people use private shipping services when they don’t need to. The post office (here, Canada Post) has always been ultra-reliable, and they don’t charge extravagant fees. Maybe people don’t trust it because it’s run by the feds?

  18. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    My handwriting sucks anyways. I always use printed labels for outgoing personal mail/packages. And for bills and rebate forms that don’t have a pre-printed address on the envelope, I use labels too.

  19. freshwater says:

    @rectilinear propagation:

    The USPS standard for including apartment numbers is just to stick
    the number right at the end of the main address. 2075 Smith St 503. So
    don’t worry about that extra line.

  20. RhymePhile says:

    @CaffeinatedSquint: And at the very end of the episode is the immortal acronym we X-Philes used from that time forward on the net: ADBB. “All Done Bye Bye.”

  21. Nighthawke says:

    If you use MS office or a decent program that generates labels or prints directly onto envelopes, use it!
    And set the ZIP+4 barcode as well, your carrier will love you for that. It means it won’t have to be hand-sorted, it’ll zip through their sorting machinery faster and get to it’s destination that much quicker.
    One thing to note is to double-envelope your nice cards. Sometimes they get the belts a little tight on the sorters and it tends to cut dollops out of the envelope and sometimes the contents.

  22. @Rectilinear Propagation: Well, the FIRST thing I thought of was the no punctuation comment.

    THEN, after reading how they take images of the address, send it to a data center to have someone eye it, thats what made me think of a murderous rage. I mean, sitting in a cube all day seeing peoples gawd-awful handwriting flashing in front of you. That might lead to some rage. Just saying. I mean, maybe they send the people who “don’t work well w/others” to sit quietly in a cube. I guarantee they have at least one person a month crack.

  23. arcticJKL says:


    Lines, the reason is lines. Lines and incompetent people in front of you.

  24. lukobe says:

    @freshwater: Thought it was 2075 Smith St Apt 503, not just 2075 Smith St 503.

  25. spryte says:

    @robdew2: They’re not saying any mail problem whatsoever is the customer’s fault – they’re validly pointing out that if an address is not written clearly, it can cause a delay in delivery. Scribbly cursive or random, non-postal-service-approved abbreviations ARE the customer’s fault.

    Yes, USPS makes errors sometimes, and sometimes they’re big ones, but considering the amount of mail they handle every day, I’m sure the percentage is quite low.

  26. NoWin says:

    I’ve toured our regional USPS processing center here in Central Mass, and I’m amazed at the efficiency (gotta’ trust me on this one).

    I’ve seen that imaging/remote zipcoding thingee system work and its pretty neat. Some of the “handwritten” addressing they have deal with is truly friggin’ BAD, and that’s not in the good-slang meaning. You need a new Enigma to decipher some peoples writing.

    I have to go with USPS on this; a relatively neat address just may keep it becoming from a 2-10 day delay in delivery, or wrong/returned altogether.

  27. CyGuy says:

    It’s NO PUNCTUATION AT ALL, people (except the hyphen in 9-digit zips). I wish the ABCNews example followed postal service “Address Hygiene” guidelines. What is the point of giving an example that doesn’t follow the guidelines?

    As to putting on the Zip+4, it may help, but then again, to totally avoid handsorting they need your 11 digit Zip, which Zip+4+2. Zip+4 will sort down to the block you live on and the specific side of the street. But it needs to have the full 11 digits to specifically ID your house. You really need to print out the full 11-digit based barcode if you want to speed things along. Otherwise If you can’t print, or you are just addressing a card or envelope, use the address exactly as formatted by the USPS Zip Code Lookup []

    If you have a package, and don’t want to take it the post office, use the USPS Shipping Label Printer []

    (if you want to know your 11 digit zip, go to the zip code lookup page [] , and on the results page click the link for “Mailing Industry Information.” The last two digits of your 11-digit zip are listed under “Delivery Point Code” which is normally the same as the last two digits of your street address, but might vary if say you live in an apartment, or at a “1/2” address)

  28. it5five says:

    I actually work at one of those eight data processing centers mentioned in the article/blog.

    Please, follow the instructions posted here. Write clearly, in print (NO CURSIVE), and with a normal black pen. No gel pens, please to god.

    Also, you might think it is cute when your child addresses the envelope, but it isn’t.

    Also, if you plan on sending mail to Santa, send it here:

    Santa Claus
    North Pole AK 99705-9900

    That’s where we send all of the Santa mail, just help us out and fill in the zip+4 for us to make our holiday season easier (I’m working 10 hour shifts 6 days a week right now).

  29. it5five says:

    EDIT: And yeah, like the article said, this coming Monday will be awful. I’ll probably be stuck working a 12 hour shift (overtime is mandatory :( )

  30. doireallyneedausername says:


    Can you tell us what it’s like to work in one of these places?

  31. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    @Cy Guy:
    I don’t understand how you’re supposed to put the delivery point code into the zip.
    I’ve always used Word or Word Perfect to print my envelopes with the full 9 digit zip & barcode. I figure that the fewer people that sort the envelope the better. Machines make fewer mistakes.

  32. CyGuy says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik:
    Here is a FAQ [] on getting Word to print what it calls “Delivery Point Barcodes.”

    And here is another [] that also includes instructions for using WordPerfect 8 & 9, or locating freeware and shareware tools to do it.

    At least one site [] does warn about using this method if trying to get bulk mail discounts, as the methodology MS Word uses (based on the street address) does not always match the USPS data (such as in the case of non-numeric street addresses). And the USPS may reject an entire bulk mailing discount if too many barcodes are incorrect.

  33. Xkeeper says:

    @Klay: Yeah, everything I’ve sent with USPS has shipped fine. This month I was getting something (mailed Sunday, 7-10 business days expected) and it’s already arrived (5 days). Most of the stuff I ship ends up there in only 2 days, sometimes 3.

    They do a good job, and I’m glad to see more people relying on them instead of, say, UPS or DHL or whatever.

  34. HungryGrrl says:

    the post office is going to love my Christmas cards… square, red envelopes with addresses hand written in silver ink. >:)

  35. brainswarm says:

    I, like IT5FIVE, am one of those people who work in one of the data entry centers, and working there in December really sucks ass. Right now, we are being called to work six days a week, ten hours a day, and as the holiday gets closer, that may get increased to twelve hours a day. You get a five or ten minute break every hour, and a half hour (unpaid) lunch. My neck gets sore, my wrists hurt, and I feel about as much Christmas spirit as the Grinch. However, I do have a nice HDTV that I bought with the extra money I earned last Christmas.

    And, I have to say, some of you people out there have atrocious handwriting. Remember, I get to see all the mail that the OCR can’t read. A lot of it, I can’t read either. And there are some companies that should really double-check their mailing lists for bad entries. I just have to laugh when I see an envelope with “Need Address” or “123 Fake St” in the address field, because it cost some company 41 cents to send it.

  36. KJones says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with what the USPS is saying. Crappy writing just adds more work and slows down your mail. Senders have nobody to blame but themselves if their christmas mail arrives late.

    I’ve lived in Asia and the norm for mailing addresses in some countries (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China) is the reverse of western countries:

    Zip/Postal code
    Street Name

    That actually makes more sense because they’re going from most general information to most specific. Or maybe it’s just a reflection of their cultures (family name first, personal name second).

    Here’s an idea to speed up the process: Put standardized rows of spaces on the front of envelopes for zip codes that the sender fills in, much like the fill-in circles used on school tests. It would be machine readable and easily visible with the eyes. With six rows of 36 characters (0-9 and A-Z) it would permit almost all possible postal and zip codes of postal systems worldwide.

  37. KJones says:


    Santa letters in Canada are interesting. Canada’s postal codes go:


    So, “Santa’s” postal code is H0H 0H0.

  38. radioshacklover says:


    why do you have to attack the USPS…honestly I think it is one of the few government run institutions that still runs well…i swear every year it gets faster…just last week I sent a letter regular post from NYC to DC and it got there overnight…don’t bash the USPS…they are doing a good job.

  39. JimJ says:

    Nice to read nice comments from so many postal non-haters!

    I’m the last link in the chain: a rural carrier. Every day I get to sort through mail that is incorrectly, unreadably, or otherwise atrociously addressed. But those aren’t the problem. A carrier who knows his/her route will know where even the most awfully addressed letter goes and get it there that day.

    The problem is the insured, delivery confirmation, signature required parcel that is also incorrectly addressed. You know what? That one’s not going to get there.

    The machines may do most of the labelling but remember, it’s still a human being that has to sort and deliver all that stuff.

  40. theblackdog says:

    File this one under “Thank You Captain Obvious”

  41. danheskett says:


    Canada Post is NOT ultra reliable. A few things:

    – CP averages return rates 30-40% higher than the USPS

    – CP destroys return mail instead of returning it in far greater qty % wise than the USPS

    – The roads in parts of rural Canada are so bad that CP is considering discontinuing scheduled delivery to about 50% of these outlying areas in 2008.

    The USPS is the big bad brother of CP. Nothing against CP, or specifically for the USPS, but there is no comparison in terms of volume, miles, or service quality. I deal with both the USPS and CP everyday of my working life, and can assure, that it’s not even close.

  42. tvh2k says:

    @theblackdog: Maybe the article, but I’ve learned more from the comments than most consumerist posts. In fact, thanks to wikipedia links, I now know how to read FIM and POSTNET barcodes as well!