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Emails have become such an accepted method of business communication between clients, vendors and customers that you probably send far more emails than letters through the mail. So, when you actually do need to mail a letter, it’s a good idea to brush up on the proper format for addressing a business envelope and letter address format, including how to write names in the address.
Wording Names and Titles Properly
Business letters printed on letterhead and sent through the mail are more formal than emails, and there are specific ways to phrase a person’s name that make the mailing appear more professional. Begin the name with either "Mr." or "Ms." unless you know the woman is married and prefers to be addressed as "Mrs." For example, you may write Mr. Julius Jones, Ms. Selena Rodriguez, Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson-Wagner or even — though less common today — Mrs. Ronald Wagner. This formal approach to the name is appropriate even if you know the person well.
Certain professions require the use of a title recognizing an advanced degree or position. "Dr. Marion Fisher" is standard for a medical doctor or for an individual with a Ph.D. On the next line, put her title — but find out in advance how to word it accurately. Different companies use titles like "director of marketing," "marketing director" or "director, marketing communications" to describe the same job.
Religious leaders have proper titles that vary depending on the sects they lead. For example, a Roman Catholic priest should be addressed as "Father Paul Vining," while a Protestant minister or pastor should be addressed as "Reverend Catherine Hall". The leader of a Jewish congregation is typically called "Rabbi," while Bishops in any religion are referred to as "Bishop" followed by their name.
Following Official Letter Envelope Format
It's important to follow the guidelines of the U.S. Postal Service so your mail is easy to read and sort and therefore will be delivered without delays.
Place the recipient's address information in the center of the envelope so it is separated from the postage and return address areas. On the first line, put the name of the person to whom you're mailing, his title (if you know it) on the second line, company's name on the third line, company's street address or PO Box number (but not both) on the fourth line and the city, state and ZIP Code on the last line.
On the same side of the envelope, put your return address in the upper left corner. Put your name on the first line, your title on the second line, your company name on the third line, the company's street address or PO Box on the fourth line and the city, state and ZIP Code on the last line. You may omit your name and title from the return address if you prefer.
Addressing the Letter Inside
The same address format from the envelope transfers to the letter inside, including names, titles and addresses. The difference is that in the most common business letter format, all are positioned flush left — against the left margin — with a space in between each piece.
Begin with your information just as it is in your return address on the envelope, but do include your name and title. If you’re printing on letterhead paper, it usually has the company’s address printed on it, and you would identify yourself by signing your name and title at the end of the letter. Skip a line and print the recipient's name, title and address just as you wrote it on the envelope.
Skip a line and put the complete, unabbreviated date, such as March 18, 2020. Skip a line and open with a business greeting, typically "Dear" followed by the name and a comma. Skip a line and write the body of your letter, keeping paragraphs flush left and separating each paragraph with a space. Some people prefer to indent each paragraph, which is a slightly less formal but acceptable method.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She has written on business topics for afkinsider.com, smallbusiness.chron.com, Harbor Style Magazine, the Charlotte Sun and more, as well as advertising copy and materials. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards in B2B and B2C marketing.