Properly writing the return address on an envelope ensures that if the recipient can't receive it, you get it back with an explanation from the post office. Although not required on most first-class mail, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) strongly recommends you always put a return address in case the mail gets misdirected or damaged. The USPS requires a return address on some types of mail such as Express Mail, and knowing the proper procedures helps you get your items on their way without delay.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Adding a return address to your mail can guarantee that it does not get lost.
It can be easy for pieces of mail to get lost, which is why a return address is necessary. Although using a return address does not guarantee the mail will reach its intended recipient, it does guarantee that the mail will return to its sender if it cannot reach the recipient. Once the mail is back in the original sender's hands, she can put it back in the mail, ideally after correcting the issue that kept it from reaching its recipient the first time.
What to Include
A return address should include enough information to ensure the letter can be returned to you efficiently. It needs the same information as the delivery address, including your name, your address with apartment or suite number if applicable, and your city, state and ZIP code. Use a printed address label or a blue or black pen. Business envelopes might include the company's logo beside the return address as well.
Proper Return Address Placement
The U.S. Postal Service prefers the return address in the upper left corner of the envelope. When you address the envelope, turn it so the longest sides are along the top and bottom. The return address goes top left, the stamp goes in the top right corner, and the delivery address sits in the center.
Large Letters and Packages
When dealing with large envelopes and packages, you might prefer to use an address label. The post office provides labels for services such as Priority Mail and Express mail. These labels include spaces for the return address and the delivery address. Treat these labels like an envelope, with the return address in the upper left corner of the label and the delivery address in the center.
Exception for Formal Invitations
Traditionally, etiquette allows the return address to sit on the flap of the envelope rather than printing it on the same side as the delivery address when mailing formal invitations to events such as weddings or graduations. However, the post office strongly encourages you to place the return address on the same side as the delivery address to make the return process seamless if it becomes necessary.
Based outside Atlanta, Ga., Shala Munroe has been writing and copy editing since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the "Marietta Daily Journal" and the "Atlanta Business Chronicle," she most recently worked in communications and management for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a BA in communications from Jacksonville State University.