The pledge I made recently to type one space rather than two following a period prompted several questions from readers. For example, they asked, if only one space is typed after a period, then what about the double space that has traditionally appeared after a colon or between a state abbreviation and zip code within an address?
As best I can tell, modern convention now dictates that only one space be used following a colon as well. Oh, great, another bad habit I need to break. Or, more positively, another good habit I need to form.
On the zip code question, however, my research opened up a small can of worms.
The U.S. Postal Service has come out with prescriptive standards for addressing envelopes, dictating that the full address appear in all caps, that there be no punctuation at all and that two spaces appear between state and zip code. So, there is your answer: two spaces between state and zip. Follow these guidelines as you wish, but I am more concerned with proper spelling and punctuation in writing than in envelope addressing.
But while we are on the subject of states, there is a rule I’d like to point out to those who may not be fully aware.
Many years ago, the Postal Service gave us two-letter, all-cap state abbreviations to ease in the sorting of mail. Unfortunately, these have spilled out of the post office and into the real world.
According to most style books, two-letter, all-cap, no-period postal abbreviations are just that—postal. They are used on envelopes and in the address blocks of letters. They may also be used in address lists, but are not to be used in text.
In text, names of the 50 United States should be spelled out when they stand alone; essentially, when they are mentioned without cities, as in “Virginia is for lovers” or “Maryland is for crabs.”
When it is necessary to abbreviate a state, such as in a dateline or when noting the party and state of an elected official, traditional abbreviations are used. These are written in caps and lower case and followed by periods as follows:
Ala., Ariz., Ark., Calif., Colo., Conn., Del., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Kan., Ky., La., Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., Mont., Neb., Nev., N.H., N.J., N.M., N.Y., N.C., N.D., Okla., Ore., Pa., R.I., S.C., S.D., Tenn., Vt., Va., Wash., W.Va., Wis., Wyo.
Eight states are always spelled out: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah.
In summary, on the envelope, postal abbreviations (two-letter, all-caps, no period) are used. In plain text and standing alone, state names are spelled out. In datelines, party-state affiliations and isolated instances where abbreviation is necessary, traditional state abbreviations are used.
If this is news to you and you are interested in getting it right in the future, I suggest you do what I did years ago, print out the list of state abbreviations and tack it on to your bulletin board. Or perhaps file it away on your computer for easy reference.
Sorry if you think I’m being crabby about this; I’m just the messenger–from Maryland.