The Relative Distinction of Address Validation, Precision, and Accuracy

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By David Loshin

One nice thing about addresses, especially in the United States, is that they have well-defined standards. In previous blog series, I have looked at the process of address standardization and correction, so I won't belabor that point. However, many people confuse the differences among a  valid address, a precise representation of an address, and an accurate address.
 
First of all, recall that the main reason for standardizing addresses is based on "delivery" - supporting the general expectation that posted items reach their desired destination. Validation that addresses meet the standard certainly can improve the delivery processing, especially when it comes to sorting the items to be delivered. That is the reason that the Post Office offers discounts in the costs of mailings when the addresses are validated in standard form.

Luckily, there is a lot of leeway when it comes to meeting this expectation. If you provide a street number, street address, city, and state, there is a good chance your item will be delivered even if it is missing a ZIP code.

On the other hand, the address is not necessarily valid in terms of it meeting the USPS standard, since it is an incomplete address. Similarly, what was put into "address line 1" and "address line 2" might have been the reverse of what is specified by the standard (does "suite 2100" go before the street address or not?), but the carrier will still be able to put the letter into the right slot once she gets to the building. In other words, the address does not need to be valid in order to be delivered.

Nor does it really have to be that precise. We might define precision to mean that the address has enough information to direct the carrier to the specific box or slot associated with the entity referenced in the address. An address with a name, a street, and a suite number is more precise than one with just a name and a street. Yet if your local carrier has some knowledge about his route, then items that have less than precise addresses will still get to their destination.

The last term may be the most important one, though: accuracy. If the address associated with the named entity is not correct, the chances of the item being delivered are much lower. And one problem is that these characterizations are not mutually exclusive: an address can be valid (i.e. it is in standard form and there is an actual delivery point associated with it) but not accurate (if the named individual is not associated with the delivery point).

And while the Post Office maintains some information and tools to help synchronize validity and accuracy, sometimes there are kinks in the process, as we will see next time.

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