An attention line in a mail address directs your mail piece to the right person or department at a company. Although it is not always necessary, including an attention line can expedite delivery of your letter or package in an organization by distinguishing it from junk or bulk mailings.
Sending via the United States Postal Service
Unless a mail piece is a nonstandard size or requires special handling, mailing addresses are scanned by machine. The USPS processes an average of 20.2 million mail pieces per hour, so a clearly written address that is properly formatted is an important part of getting mail to recipients without delay.
The attention line is the first line of an address, followed by the name of the company, the street address, and the city, state and ZIP code. Here is an example:
ATTN WILLIAM JONES
456 WALNUT ST
BOSTON MA 02133-0123
Notice that the word "Attention" is abbreviated "ATTN." Notice, too, that the address is formatted using all capital letters. There are no periods after the abbreviations for "Attention," "Street" and "Massachusetts" and no commas between "BOSTON" and "MA." Eliminating punctuation and using all capital letters makes for a clean format that a machine can read easily.
Sending via Private Delivery Service
Private delivery services, such as UPS, FedEx and DHL, also use scanners to read addresses for delivery processing. When using an ATTN line, follow the formatting rules established by the U.S. Postal Service.
When You Don't Have an Individual's Name
If possible, phone a company or do an internet search to find the name of the specific individual to whom you want to address your mail. Verify the spelling. When you cannot obtain the name of an individual, it's perfectly acceptable to use ATTN with a job title or a department in the company. For example:
ATTN HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
1812 7TH AVE
CORNING NY 14830-4567
ATTN SALES DEPT
91 BUSINESS RD
PLEASANTON CA 94588-0091
Use Correct USPS Abbreviations
In the two examples above, abbreviations are used for "Attention," "Avenue," "Incorporated," "Road" and the state names. The USPS has a list of standardized abbreviations on its website that you should use when addressing letters and parcels for delivery. Private delivery services also use these abbreviations.
A handwritten address is perfectly acceptable when using any of the formats shown above. Print clearly, using block letters and blue or black ink. You can use a ballpoint pen for an envelope, but use a permanent marker when addressing a package because it is easier for a delivery person to see. Avoid red ink because it is the same color as a postmark and can be missed by the scanner.
Printing Address Labels
You can print labels from a carrier's website when you pay for postage or delivery service. Websites for the USPS, UPS, FedEx and DHL have instructions that guide you through the process. When you conduct transactions through PayPal, Amazon and some other e-commerce sites, you have the option to purchase postage at a discounted rate and print an address label. When you type in an address, the site may show a preferred address that uses standard USPS abbreviations.
Attention Letter Format
When sending a business letter, format the inside address block the same way as the outside address on the envelope or package, but use normal capitalization and punctuation. For example:
Attn: George Smith
Acme Products, Inc.
104 Main St.
Anytown OH 43123-0123
Attention Email Format
Emails are meant to be short, easy-to-read communications. Use "Attention" when emailing a department or an individual when all you have is the general email address for the organization. Type "Attn:" and the name in the subject line so that whoever opens general email can forward it to the right person. It's not necessary to use all capital letters. Email etiquette suggests refraining from using all capitals in any situation because it can be interpreted by the reader as shouting or an angry tone.
- Some stylists believe that an "Attention" line in a business letter is never necessary. In general, use it only when you believe your correspondence may have difficulty finding its intended recipient.
Denise Dayton, M.S., M.Ed. is a freelance writer specializing in careers, education and technology. In addition to writing for corporate clients, she has published articles in Library Journal and The Searcher.